Serzh Sargsyan: Protesters return after talks fail in Armenia


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Media captionThere is a heavy police presence in Yerevan for this protest

Tens of thousands of opposition protesters have returned to the streets in Armenia despite the resignation of long-standing leader Serzh Sargsyan.

The renewed protest follows the breakdown of talks between opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan and Karen Karapetyan, Mr Sargsyan’s replacement.

Mr Sargsyan had taken up the post last week after serving as president.

On Wednesday, protesters marched through the capital Yerevan chanting “Nikol for prime minister”.

They shouted, clapped, whistled, beat drums and tooted car horns in the city’s main square. They were joined by supporters of the country’s second biggest party, which urged its members to take part after previously staying out of the protests.

The authorities had increased security, deploying additional police officers and cordoning off government buildings and buildings used by the ruling Republican Party.

The new President, Armen Sarkissian, has said he will hold talks with political parties to try to resolve the crisis, warning the country faces “a serious trial”.

Why did talks fail?

Nikol Pashinyan urged people to gather for a rally after his planned talks with acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan were cancelled amid disagreement over the format of the meeting.

Mr Pashinyan had been detained briefly during the protests.

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Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan says a “velvet revolution” is unfolding in Armenia

There had been scenes of jubilation on Monday after Serzh Sargsyan gave in to the protesters’ demand to resign, acknowledging “the street movement” was against his tenure.

He was replaced by Mr Karapetyan, an ally and fellow Republican Party member, who served as prime minister when Mr Sargsyan was still president.

Demanding fresh faces

Rayhan Demytrie, BBC News, Yerevan

By foot, in cars and on top of lorries, the protesters returned to the central square. This time many held large pictures of governing Republican Party officials, the faces crossed out in red. “Down with the Republicans!” they shouted

The ousting of Serzh Sargsyan, who is also a Republican, was not enough. The Republican Party has dominated the Armenian parliament for more than 20 years. The Armenians wanted to see fresh elections and new faces in politics.

Protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, emboldened by overwhelming support from the people, has made it clear that the only way forward is to listen to the people’s will, which he says he represents.

On Wednesday, three more political parties joined the protest movement. The government said it would announce its position on the current situation “soon”.

Why was there such a strong opposition to Serzh Sargsyan?

He had previously stated he would “not aspire” to the prime ministerial position but last week he was chosen by parliament for the post.

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Mr Sargsyan has been criticised for his close ties to Russia

He served two consecutive terms as president of Armenia – his first began in 2008 and his second in 2013, ending on 9 April this year. Both elections were marred by violence.

In 2015, Armenians voted in a referendum to shift the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system, stripping powers from the president and giving them to the prime minister. The vote was marred by allegations of vote-rigging.

Mr Sargsyan was accused by critics of being overly dependent on Russia and failing to address continuing tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and widespread poverty at home.

His supporters said the tough veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Azerbaijan provided the national security Armenia needed.

Mr Pashinyan has described his protest movement as another “velvet revolution”, referring to the peaceful protests in 1989 that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia (which later split into two states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia).

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