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Armenian Opposition Activists Rally As PM, President Hold Talks

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Opposition supporters protest in front of the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan on March 13.

Opposition supporters have rallied in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

Demonstrators shouting "Nikol, you traitor!" and "Nikol, go away!" surrounded the Foreign Ministry building where Pashinian had a meeting on March 13.

Later in the day, protesters rallied outside the residence of Armenia's largely ceremonial president, Armen Sarkisian, where Pashinian also held talks over ways to defuse the political crisis that has gripped the Caucasus country since a war with neighboring Azerbaijan last year.

Pashinian, whose My Step faction dominates parliament, has refused opposition demands to resign but has hinted at accepting early parliamentary elections under certain conditions.

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, 2020, ending six weeks of fierce fighting in and around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh that saw ethnic Armenian forces suffer battlefield defeat.

Under the cease-fire, a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by Armenians.

Joint Opposition Candidate

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.

A coalition uniting 16 opposition parties has been holding anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan and other parts of the country in a bid to force Pashinian to hand over power to an interim government.

Opposition forces want their joint candidate, Vazgen Manukian, to become transitional prime minister to oversee fresh elections.

Sarkisian and Pashinian discussed "the situation in the country [and] ways of resolving it and overcoming the internal political crisis," the president's office said on March 13.

"In this context, they discussed holding early parliamentary elections as a solution," the presidential office said, adding that Sarkisian had called for the meeting.

The leaders of My Step and one of the two opposition groups, Bright Armenia, also accepted Sarkisian's invitation to the March 13 talks, and held meetings with the president later in the day.

The talks included Lilit Makunts, the parliamentary leader of My Step, and Manukian, the former prime minister and ex-defense minister.

The opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and the Homeland Salvation Movement, an alliance of about a dozen political parties and groups, including the BHK, demanding Pashinian's resignation, would not participate, the president's office said.

Opposition activist Ishkhan Saghatelian said the opposition would only discuss its participation in snap elections if Pashinian stepped down and parliament was dissolved.

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