Thousands of people rallied in Armenia, blocking government offices and roads and vowing to bring about a ‘velvet revolution,’ following the appointment of former President Serzh Sargsyan as the country’s new prime minister.
Protesters in the capital Yerevan blocked access to several government agencies on Tuesday, including the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Foreign Ministry. Carrying national flags, many chanted “Armenia without Serzh!”
Some 80 demonstrators were detained for various violations, but released after spending several hours in custody, according to a police spokesman.
Authorities have urged people to refrain from engaging in actions that may “go beyond the right for peaceful assemblies guaranteed by the constitution,” and warned that police have legal grounds to disperse gatherings if needed, to prevent criminal activity.
The protest leader, Nikol Pashinyan, has proclaimed a ‘Velvet Revolution’ in the country, apparently referring to the transition of power in Czechoslovakia in 1989. He said that his supporters will continue blocking roads and government offices on Wednesday. According to Pashinyan, the Armenian government has lost legitimacy and all of the state agencies, including the police, should obey the decisions of the so-called Velvet Revolution Committees, which are to be created in the coming days.
The public discontent, however, did not prevent Serzh Sargsyan, who had held the president’s office for nearly a decade, from being voted in as Prime Minister on Tuesday. The 64-year-old veteran politician, who was the only nominated candidate, was supported by 77 out of the 94 MPs present at the National Assembly.
The role of Prime Minister became the key position in the country after a constitutional referendum in 2015 saw Armenia switch to a parliamentary system. The opposition claims that Sargsyan had promised not to seek the job but has now broken his vow in order to secure his grip on power.
During his address, Sargsyan urged MPs to “put every effort in order to bring your colleague (Pashinyan) back to parliament from the streets.” The new head of government promised to work with the opposition in order to settle all differences.
Protests have been ongoing in Armenia since the ruling Republican Party of Armenia nominated their leader, Sargsyan, for the PM post last week. On Monday, 46 people, including six police officers and Pashinyan himself, were injured and had to seek medical attention as demonstrators attempted to storm the parliament building and clashed with authorities.
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