Acting Armenian PM rejects talks with oppn leader, protests persist

YEREVAN: Armenia’s acting prime minister, Karen Karapetyan, rejected a proposal by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan to hold talks on Friday to defuse a political crisis engulfing the small south Caucasus nation.
Armenia, a close ally of Russia, has been rocked by two weeks of anti-government protests against the ruling elite which led on Monday to the resignation of Serzh Sarksyan as prime minister. Sarksyan had previously been president for a decade.
The protesters have not stopped at Sarksyan’s resignation, making clear they consider the whole government tainted by his drive to shift power to the prime minister from the president.
“The acting prime minister considers taking part in ‘talks’ that have no chance of finding a solution to be useless,” Karapetyan’s press service said in a statement. Karapetyan is an ally of Sarksyan and a member of his ruling Republican Party.
Pashinyan, who has led the daily street protests, said Karapetyan was repeating Sarksyan’s mistakes and said the demonstrations would continue.
“The (ruling) Republican Party is seeking to deepen the crisis,” Pashinyan told a news conference.
Protesters plan to hold rallies outside the capital, in two other big cities, on Friday and Saturday and then to continue in Yerevan from Sunday. Pashinyan, a former journalist turned lawmaker, said the opposition would probably boycott any snap parliamentary election unless parliament made him the interim prime minister.
“We want a guarantee that such an election would be really free, really transparent and really democratic,” Pashinyan said. “Otherwise this vote would not have any meaning.”
“I’m calling on the citizens of Armenia to go out to the streets from early morning on May 1 and to flood all streets and squares, including around the National Assembly (parliament),” Pashinyan added.
Parliament is due to pick a new prime minister on May 1.
Although the anti-government demonstrations have been peaceful, the upheaval has threatened to destabilise Armenia in a volatile region riven by the country’s decades-long, low-level conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan has not questioned Armenia’s geopolitical alignment with Russia under Sarksyan and his criticism has focused on domestic issues such as corruption and poverty.
On Friday, the Kremlin said it hoped the political crisis in Armenia could be resolved as promptly as possible and with the consensus of all parties involved.
Moscow has two military bases in the ex-Soviet republic.
— Reuters