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Armenian Opposition Protests Resume Despite Calls For Dialogue


More Arrests As Armenia Protests Continue
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Demonstrators are expected to protest for the eighth consecutive day.

YEREVAN -- Protests against the election of longtime former Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian as prime minister have resumed in Yerevan despite the authorities' calls for dialogue.

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital early on April 20 for an eighth straight day against what they see as Sarkisian's attempt to cement his hold on power.

They were answering a call by opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian, who was again leading the protesters' march toward downtown Yerevan.

Late on April 19, Pashinian told a rally of some 10,000 people on Yerevan's central Republic Square that actions must continue and urged demonstrators to block the traffic in the capital on April 20.

President Armen Sarkisian -- who is not related to Serzh Sarkisian -- called for dialogue after a day of scuffles between protesters and riot police which resulted in some 120 demonstrators being detained in downtown Yerevan.

The April 19 detentions, during which security forces occasionally used violence, came as riot police began cordoning off a major government building compound.

PHOTO GALLERY by RFE/RL's Amos Chapple: Police break up protest

A police spokesman said the demonstrators were detained in the square when security forces moved in and started to push back the protesters to clear the entrances into government buildings.

The demonstrators had gathered after Pashinian told them to come in front of the government offices on Republic Square in the morning.

The spokesman said the detainees were taken to police stations and that if they were not released after three hours “it means they are suspected of committing offenses."

Video footage showed chaotic scenes, with a young woman being dragged by police officers, and young protesters being violently pushed inside police vans by members of the security forces.

The protesters' actions apparently forced Serzh Sarkisian to put off his first cabinet meeting for several hours. Government meetings usually begin at 11 a.m. in a compound located on Republic Square.

As the cabinet meeting was under way in the late afternoon, protesters returned to the square where police forces were deployed to prevent demonstrators from entering government offices.

A man places a flower onto an upside-down portrait of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in a children’s park in Yerevan. The frame features a black strip of cloth at the corner, traditionally placed over a portrait when someone is dead.
A man places a flower onto an upside-down portrait of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian in a children’s park in Yerevan. The frame features a black strip of cloth at the corner, traditionally placed over a portrait when someone is dead.

In a separate incident near a government building, a journalist working for an Armenian nongovernmental organization was beaten up while covering the opposition rally on April 19 and was hospitalized for several hours with head injuries.

Journalist Tirayr Muradian of the Union of Informed Citizens told RFE/RL that he was beaten up by two young people who did not behave like “classic demonstrators.”

Serzh Sarkisian’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) factions, on April 19 urged Armenia’s leading political groups to try to “jointly find solutions” to end stalemate.

Police stand by as night falls on Yerevan's Republic Square on April 19.
Police stand by as night falls on Yerevan's Republic Square on April 19.

The United States urged both sides to exercise restraint and avoid violence, and Russia said that laws should not be broken.

In Warsaw, Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), urged the Armenian authorities to protect and ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country.

She also expressed concern over “reported instances of the disproportionate use of force by Armenian police against peaceful protestors, including minors, as well as indiscriminate arrests in Yerevan and other cities.”

Passersby take selfies in front of riot police guarding the government building in Yerevan's Republic Square on the evening of April 19.
Passersby take selfies in front of riot police guarding the government building in Yerevan's Republic Square on the evening of April 19.

The protests erupted on April 13 after parliament voted in Serzh Sarkisian as prime minister, cementing his continued dominance of power after a decade as president.

On April 17, eight days after his presidency ended and his handpicked successor was elected president by parliament, Sarkisian was elected prime minister in a 76-17 vote.

Serzh Sarkisian was first elected in 2008 in the South Caucasus country of about 3 million people and served two terms. He has maintained warm ties with Russia, which Armenia relies on for aid and investment more than a quarter-century after the Soviet collapse.

Under a shift that was approved in a 2015 referendum and is now in place, Armenia changed its form of government and handed more powers to the prime minister, downgrading the president -- now also elected by parliament -- to more of a figurehead. Sarkisian had promised in the past that would not seek to be prime minister, and Pashinian and other opposition leaders accuse him of breaking that pledge.

Night falls on Republic Square in Yerevan on April 19, with rings of police guarding the government building from energized protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Night falls on Republic Square in Yerevan on April 19, with rings of police guarding the government building from energized protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.

Sarkisian disputed those accusations in a speech to parliament ahead of the vote on April 17, saying that his previous statements were taken "out of context" and that in a parliamentary republic, the leader of the ruling party should also serve as prime minister.

He contended that if someone else were to become prime minister, it could lead to the appearance of a "shadow" government situation in which the ruling party leader governs de facto, instead of the prime minister, but is able to evade responsibility for developments in the country.

The ruling HHK party and Dashnaktsutyun, which together have a majority in parliament, unanimously chose Sarkisian as the nominee for the prime minister's post earlier in April, and the protests began on April 13.

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