YEREVAN -- Thousands of protesters have rallied in the Armenian capital to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over his handling of a six-week war with Azerbaijan last year.
Demonstrators gathered on February 20 in Freedom Square in central Yerevan under a heavy police presence shouting, "Armenia without Nikol!" and "Nikol traitor!"
Pashinian has refused calls to step down but raised the possibility of holding early parliamentary elections.
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. The deal ended six weeks of fierce fighting in and around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh that saw ethnic Armenian forces suffer battlefield defeat.
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.
"It doesn't matter how many people gather on the square, Nikol Pashinian will not resign voluntarily," Manukian told a crowd of protesters waving Armenian flags in Freedom Square.
Despite facing a united opposition front, Pashinian’s My Step bloc maintains an overwhelming majority in parliament.
Under the Moscow-brokered 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.
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.