YEREVAN -- Armenia's top brass has again called for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's resignation as opposition supporters blocked the parliament building shortly after he announced that a top general had been relieved of his duties.
The army General Staff on March 10 reiterated that early elections are the only way out of the ongoing political crisis in the South Caucasus country and repeated a demand that Pashinian step down after President Armen Sarkisian refused to endorse his dismissal of the chief of the General Staff, Onik Gasparian.
At the heart of the turmoil is a Russian-brokered deal Pashinian signed in November that brought an end to fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh at a heavy cost for the Armenian side, which suffered territorial and battlefield losses from Azerbaijan's Turkish-backed military.
The deal saw Armenia cede control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven surrounding districts that had been occupied by Armenian forces since the early 1990s, prompting protests from the opposition and parts of the military.
In light of what they perceived as a national humiliation, Gasparian and other top brass on February 25 called for the departure of Pashinian, who in turn accused the military of a coup attempt and promptly fired Gasparian.
The move triggered an ongoing standoff between the government on the one hand and the opposition backed by top military officers on the other hand, with President Sarkisian adding to the tension with his repeated refusal to endorse Gasparian's dismissal.
Both opposition supporters and Pashinian's backers have been holding rival rallies in the capital since the crisis broke out.
Pashinian on March 10 announced Gasparian's departure, arguing that the general's dismissal automatically took force after Sarkisian failed to sign the dismissal decree submitted by Pashinian and did not appeal it at the Constitutional Court within the legal time frame.
Opposition demonstrators who had surrounded the government building since March 9, engaging in occasional scuffles with police, gathered in large numbers on March 10 and blocked access to the parliament building.
Pashinian has defended the November deal as the only way to prevent the Azerbaijani military from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Russia has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the agreement.
Pashinian, whose My Step faction dominates parliament, has offered to hold snap parliamentary elections later this year but refused opposition demands to resign.