Tens of thousands protest as Armenia crisis deepens

Yerevan: Armenia’s crisis deepened on Wednesday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets after the opposition accused the government of refusing to negotiate a transfer of power following the resignation of veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian.
Authorities beefed up security in the capital Yerevan, cordoning off buildings housing the government and the ruling Republican party, and deploying hundreds of police and several armoured personnel carriers.
Protesters shouted, clapped, whistled, beat drums and tooted car horns in demonstrations that underscored the political turmoil gripping the former Soviet republic.
Led by 42-year-old Nikol Pashinyan, thousands of demonstrators marched through Yerevan against the Republican Party’s unwillingness to facilitate the transfer of power after former president Sarkisian stood down on Monday from his new post of prime minister.
Pashinyan sported his trademark khaki-coloured T-shirt and clutched a megaphone as protesters chanted “Nikol for prime minister” and “We are the masters of our country”.
Demonstrators warned of possible clashes with the authorities if a solution to the crisis was not found quickly. “There is a danger that riots, clashes could start if the Republicans do not leave in a calm manner,” 40-year-old lawyer Ruzanna Vartanyan said.
Stepan Grigoryan, a political analyst who joined the rallies, said it was a do-or-die situation, describing the current system as “criminal.”
Russia — which has a military base in Armenia — said on Wednesday it was watching the situation “very closely” but reiterated that it would not interfere.
“We believe this to be Armenia’s internal affair,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
In a surprise move, Sarkisian, who served as president for a decade, stood down as prime minister just a week after being elected by parliament, following days of protests by demonstrators who accused him of a blatant power grab.
Pashinyan, leader of the Civil Contract Party, had been due later to hold talks with acting government head Karen Karapetyan to discuss a “peaceful” power transfer. — AFP