April 24, 2018 / 4:14 PM / 7 months ago

Armenian opposition leader calls new rally for Wednesday

YEREVAN (Reuters) - The Armenian opposition leader who helped force the country’s prime minister to resign called on supporters to stage a rally on Wednesday after planned talks with the ruling Republican Party were cancelled.

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan attends a rally to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, in central Yerevan, Armenia April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Serzh Sarksyan, who previously served as Armenia’s president for a decade, resigned as prime minister on Monday after almost two weeks of street protests prompted by accusations he had manipulated the constitution to cling to power.

“The Republican Party is thinking about taking advantage of Serzh Sarksyan’s resignation and wants to keep power,” opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan said in a video appeal posted on his Facebook page after he led thousands of people on a march on Tuesday.

“We can’t agree on the appointment of this party’s representative as prime minister and we can’t allow this corrupted system to continue to exist,” he said, urging supporters “to come to the square and finish the velvet revolution.”

Pashinyan played a key role in ousting Sarksyan, organising many of the protests and calling for the premier to go in a televised exchange before being jailed and then released. He had been set to start talks with the ruling party on Wednesday, but they were cancelled late on Tuesday.

Sarksyan was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow is closely watching events in the former Soviet republic, where it has two military bases. The Kremlin said on Tuesday it was pleased the situation appeared stable for now.

Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, an ally of the ousted Sarksyan, called on the president to organise another meeting, where all political forces could participate.

“Being concerned by the current situation. ... I’m calling on the president to organise the meeting ... with the participation of parliamentary and non-parliamentary political forces,” Karapetyan said in a statement posted on his website.

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, another ally of the ex-premier, was sworn in as president earlier this month after being elected by parliament.

Under a revised constitution approved in a 2015 referendum, most state powers shifted to the prime minister while the presidency became a largely ceremonial post.

The opposition and ruling party could not agree on an agenda or format for Wednesday’s meeting, although Karapetyan said one of the topics at a rescheduled session could be holding early parliamentary elections, something Pashinyan was insisting on.

‘READY TO BECOME PRIME MINISTER’

In another move likely to prolong the political crisis that has rocked one of Russia’s closest allies from the former Soviet Union, Pashinyan said on Tuesday he was ready to be the country’s next premier and would keep up pressure on the ruling elite until it agreed to real change.

“If people put this responsibility on me, I’m ready to become the prime minister,” Pashinyan, wearing his trademark black baseball cap and military-style T-shirt, told reporters.

The 42-year-old politician said the velvet revolution he had helped bring about was not over and that the next step would be the election of a new prime minister by parliament and the holding of an early parliamentary election.

If elected, Pashinyan said he would try to maintain a balance in foreign policy, but ruled out challenging the presence of Russian military bases in Armenia or the country’s membership in Russia-led military and economic alliances.

“We are not going to make any sharp geopolitical moves,” he said.

Many experts said it was too early to predict what lies ahead.

Slideshow (11 Images)

“What is needed is a sober power-sharing reconfiguration,” said Richard Giragosian, a director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Centre.

“Yet such consensus and compromise seems very far away, and with mounting expectations and anger dangerously high, the real challenge of governance is only just beginning.”

Reporting by Margarita Antidze and Hasmik Mkrtchyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney

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