Thousands Take Part in Opposition National Strike Protest

VIEW GALLERY: Thousands turn out for opposition National Salvation Movements protest on Dec. 22

YEREVAN (—Thousands of people poured into Yerevan’s main square on Tuesday as the Armenian opposition tried to intensify its campaign for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation.

Leaders of a coalition of more than a dozen opposition parties said they will hold daily demonstrations until Pashinian agrees to hand over power to an interim government tasked with holding snap parliamentary elections within a year.

“We must take the whole state system away from Nikol Pashinian as a result of sustained, consistent and well-organized efforts,” one of them, Armenian Revolutionary Federation leader Ishkhan Saghatelyan, told the crowd demonstrating at the city’s Republic Square where the main government building is located.

Vazgen Manukyan, who has been nominated by the opposition National Salvation Movement as a caretaker prime minister, urged Armenia’s armed forces and police to stop executing Pashinian’s orders and “join the people.” “Switch to our side so that we solve the issue today,” he said.

At Saghatelyan’s urging, some of the protesters chanting “Nikol traitor” surrounded the nearby building of the prime minister’s office guarded by several rows of riot police.

A group of other protesters walked to another building that houses several government ministries. They briefly scuffled with riot police there.

The opposition leaders went on to give the Armenian parliament’s pro-government majority until 6 p.m. to meet with them and discuss their demands. Lawmakers representing Pashinian’s My Step bloc ignored the offer.

One of those lawmakers, Maria Karapetyan, said the ruling bloc will not meet any of the opposition demands. She claimed that the snap polls sought by the opposition would be held by “election falsifiers” if Pashinian were to resign now.

The opposition responded by pledging to step up the pressure on the parliamentary majority. “If they are not conscious of the popular demand then we have to force a session of the parliament,” Saghatelyan said in another speech delivered at Republic Square later in the day.
The organizers pitched tents in the sprawling square for protesters willing to spend the night there.

The opposition forces hold Pashinian responsible for the Armenian side’s defeat in the recent war with Azerbaijan and say he is not capable of confronting new security challenges facing Armenia. Their demands for his resignation and the formation of an interim government have been backed by President Armen Sarkissian, the Armenian Apostolic Church and prominent public figures in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.

In a statement issued earlier on Tuesday, Pashinyan again made clear that he has no intention to step down. He portrayed the ongoing anti-government protests as a revolt by the country’s “elites” that lost their “privileges” when he swept to power in 2018.

Karapetyan rejected any parallels between the ongoing anti-government protests and the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” “This is an attempt to use democratic instruments against democracy and we will not allow that,” she said.

The opposition alliance called last week for a general strike and boycott of university classes for December 22. It was not immediately clear how many Armenians heeded the appeal.
At least one major highway was reportedly blocked by opposition supporters on Tuesday afternoon.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic Armenian universities switched back to online classes in October.

In statements issued in recent days, the deans and professors of 11 of the 19 departments of Yerevan State University (YSU) backed the opposition campaign of civil disobedience. The deans included Naghash Martirosyan of YSU’s Journalist Department.

Martirosyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the department’s ongoing exam session was not interrupted on Tuesday. He said the department statement in support of the opposition was a largely symbolic move designed to “demonstrate our concerns over the existing uncer


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