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Armenia's Pashinian Says Early Elections 'Cannot Be Held Based On My Will Alone'

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RFE/RL Interview: Pashinian Says 'The People Must Decide' Who Will Be Prime Minister
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RFE/RL Interview: Pashinian Says 'The People Must Decide' Who Will Be Prime Minister

YEREVAN -- Armenia's embattled prime minister, Nikol Pashinian, who is facing mounting opposition calls for him to step down over last month's cease-fire deal with Azerbaijan, says he alone cannot decide to call early parliamentary elections.

Pashinian made the comments in an interview with RFE/RL on December 16 as several thousand demonstrators turned out for a march through the center of Yerevan during which the opposition called for a nationwide strike next week.

"The question is not whether or not the prime minister must resign. The question is who decides in Armenia who should be the prime minister. The people must decide with their vote," Pashinian said. "Snap elections cannot be held based on my will and decision alone. There has to be consensus."

The prime minister did not elaborate.

Pashinian, who swept to power amid nationwide protests in 2018, 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 ethnic Armenians had controlled since the 1990s.

Thousands of anti-government protesters have taken to the streets of Yerevan and other Armenian cities since the truce took effect, while most opposition groups called for the establishment of a new, interim government until early elections can be held in the coming months.

Speaking at the scene of the opposition march in the capital on December 16, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party, Ishkhan Sagatelian, called for a nationwide strike beginning on December 22.

"We must begin a general strike," Sagatelian said, adding that the entire country "must be paralyzed' to force Pashinian to step down.

Pashinian has said he has no plans to quit, insisting that he is responsible for ensuring national security and stabilizing the former Soviet republic.

However, representatives of his My Step bloc have indicated in recent days that they are "ready to discuss" the possibility of holding fresh parliamentary elections.

In the interview with RFE/RL, the prime minister also admitted that he bore responsibility for the outcome of the latest fighting, in which more than 5,600 people on both sides were killed -- the worst clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh since the early 1990s.

"I consider myself to be the No. 1 person responsible [for the Armenian side's defeat], but I do not consider myself to be the No. 1 guilty person," Pashinian said, dismissing critics' claims he precipitated the war with a reckless policy on Nagorno-Karabakh.

"The situation had reached a point where war was inevitable," he said.

Under the Moscow-brokered cease fire agreed last month, some parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by Armenians.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the region's population reject Azerbaijani rule.

They had been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops and Azeri civilians were pushed out of the region and seven adjacent districts in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.

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