YEREVAN -- Thousands of people have poured into the Armenian capital’s main square as the opposition continues its campaign to pressure Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to quit over last month’s cease-fire deal with Azerbaijan.
The protesters gathered in Republic Square on December 22 and chanted slogans such as, “Nikol, traitor” as riot police guarded the prime minister’s offices nearby.
Another group of demonstrators walked into another building that houses several government ministries and briefly scuffled with security forces there, while a major highway was reportedly blocked by opposition supporters in the afternoon.
Leaders of a coalition of more than a dozen opposition parties have vowed to hold daily demonstrations until Pashinian agrees to hand over power to a “transitional” government tasked with organizing snap parliamentary elections within a year.
Vazgen Manukian, who has been nominated by the opposition National Salvation Movement to head such a government, urged Armenian armed forces and police to stop carrying out Pashinian’s orders and “join the people.”
“Switch to our side so that we solve the issue today,” Manukian told the crowd on Republic Square.
Pashinian earlier on December 22 made clear that he has no intention to leave office and portrayed the anti-government protests as a revolt by the country’s “elites” who had lost their “privileges” when he swept to power amid nationwide protests in 2018.
The prime minister has come under fire since agreeing to a Moscow-brokered deal with Azerbaijan that took effect on November 10, ending six weeks of fierce fighting in and around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
His opponents want him to quit over what they say was his disastrous handling of the conflict that handed Azerbaijan swaths of territory that ethnic Armenians had controlled since the 1990s.
They also say Pashinian is uncapable of dealing with the new security challenges Armenia is facing.
Calls for his resignation have been backed by President Armen Sarkisian, the head of Armenia's Apostolic Church, as well as other prominent public figures in the country and the Armenian diaspora.