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Armenian PM Says He's Ready For Early Elections If Opposition Agrees To Conditions

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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian addresses his supporters during a gathering on Republic Square in Yerevan on February 25.

YEREVAN -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said that he is prepared to hold snap parliamentary elections provided the opposition agrees to certain conditions.

Political tensions in Armenia are high, with supporters of Pashinian and the opposition each staging massive rallies at separate sites in the capital.

Pashinian is confronted with an ongoing political crisis after the army demanded that he quit last week, a move he said amounted to a coup attempt.

"If the parliamentary opposition agrees to early elections, we will agree to early elections," Pashinian told thousands of supporters gathered in Yerevan's central Republic Square on March 1.

He also proposed holding a referendum in October on adopting a new constitution that would expand presidential powers to avoid future crises, and suggested parliamentary factions sign a memorandum promising not to elect someone else as prime minister if he steps down to clear the way for early elections.

Pashinian has faced mounting protests and calls from the opposition for his resignation following a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year. Many Armenians see the deal as a humiliating loss.

At the heart of the turmoil is the Russian-brokered deal Pashinian signed in November that brought an end to 44 days of fierce fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenian forces suffered territorial and battlefield losses from Azerbaijan's Turkish-backed military.

The prime minister was forced to cede control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan that had been occupied by Armenian forces since the early 1990s.

Armenia In Crisis: What's Next After Pashinian Denounces 'Attempted Coup'?
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Last week, the discontent spilled over into the military after Pashinian dismissed Tiran Khachatrian, the first deputy chief of the general staff, who mocked the prime minister’s analysis of Russian weapons used in the war against Azerbaijan.

In response, several dozen high-ranking military officers signed a letter accusing Pashinian and his government of bringing the country “to the brink of collapse” and said it “will no longer be able to make adequate decisions in this critical situation for the Armenian people."

Pashinian said the move amounted to "an attempted military coup" and immediately fired Onik Gasparian, the chief of the military's General Staff.

President Armen Sarkisian, however, has refused to sign the order, prompting some members of Pashinian’s My Step alliance to call for the president’s impeachment.

Addressing the rally of his supporters, Pashinian on March 1 again urged Sarkisian to endorse the dismissal of the General Staff chief for meddling in politics.

At the same time as Pashinian's rally, thousands of opposition supporters held a competing demonstration outside the National Assembly building, calling for the prime minister's resignation.

"We must reaffirm that we will not tolerate the dismantling of all state institutions by one person, we will stand by our army and the president of the republic, we will defend our statehood until the end, demanding the same from other structures," the organizers of the rally said in a statement.

"The removal of this government is inevitable. Let us unite our forces and resolutely achieve the departure of the traitor," it said.

Armenian PM Proposes Snap Elections Amid Rival Political Rallies
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Earlier on March 1, a group of protesters demanding Pashinian's resignation broke into a government building in the capital.

Dozens of protesters invaded the building on March 1, warning that there was no building in the country where Pashinian could hide.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax
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