Armenia’s leader backs early vote next year after mass protests

The opposition is calling for PM Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation over his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan.

Opposition supporters continue to block streets in the capital and engage in occasional scuffles with police [Karen Minasyan/AFP]

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has backed the prospect of early parliamentary elections next year, after huge protests over his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan wrote on Facebook on Friday that he was inviting parliamentary and interested, non-parliamentary powers to talks on the subject, though he did not name an exact date for them.

“I am not hanging on to the prime minister’s seat,” he said, though he added that he was ready to continue leading “if the people reaffirm their trust in these difficult times”.

Pashinyan has been under heavy pressure since the end of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The opposition is calling for his resignation, holding him responsible for the defeat against Azerbaijan.

Since the peace deal between the two neighbours was signed on November 10, Armenia’s opposition politicians and their supporters have been demanding that Pashinyan step down.

The accord saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that it had lost in the early 1990s.

The Russia-brokered agreement ended 44 days of fierce fighting in which the Azerbaijani army routed Armenian forces.

Pashinyan has defended the peace deal as a painful but necessary move to prevent Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.

He argued on Friday that his critics lack broad public support for their demand.

“There is only one way to get answers to these questions: by holding early parliamentary elections,” Pashinyan wrote on Facebook.

Police on Thursday arrested at least 77 people following clashes when thousands of protesters converged in capital Yerevan and surrounded the heavily guarded government building.

Opposition supporters on Friday continued blocking streets in the Armenian capital and engaged in occasional scuffles with police.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994.

Fighting broke out in the region on September 27 this year and lasted until November 9. In total, more than 4,600 people died on both sides – most of them soldiers. On the Armenian side alone, 60 civilians were killed.

Source: News Agencies