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Pashinian Calls For Pause In Street Protests After Ruling Party Changes Stance


Armenia Paralyzed By Opposition Blockades
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WATCH: Armenia Paralyzed By Opposition Blockades

YEREVAN -- Armenian protest leader Nikol Pashinian called for a pause in the massive street demonstrations he has led after the ruling Republican Party indicated that it might support him for prime minister in a May 8 parliamentary vote.

Pashinian, an opposition lawmaker who has been leading the protests since April 13, cautiously welcomed the change in the HHK party's stance, telling a rally in Yerevan's Republic Square on May 2 that the HHK's "verbal" concession will need to be confirmed in meetings with the party's leadership.

"The issue has practically been solved," he told tens of thousands of people at the rally as he called off strike actions and protests scheduled for May 3. "Kids, you are going to school tomorrow. We are suspending protests and going to have a rest."

Pashinian Tells Supporters 'Have A Rest'
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Pashinian's remarks came after Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK's parliamentary leader, announced that the party will not field its own candidate in a May 8 vote and will support any candidate nominated by at least one-third of the parliament, "whoever that might be."

Baghdasarian said the HHK reached that decision in an effort to normalize the situation in the country, where activity was nearly paralyzed during a massive protest action Pashianian orchestrated on May 2.

Baghdasarian made the announcement a day after the HHK used its parliamentary majority to block Pashinian from becoming prime minister in an initial vote in parliament.

Baghdasarian's announcement also came minutes after opposition parties announced that Pashinian had secured the support of the minimum 35 lawmakers needed to be nominated as a candidate in the May 8 vote.

The Tsarukian Alliance, with 31 seats in parliament, announced that it would support Pashinian’s nomination. Together with Pashinian’s Yelk faction, which has nine seats, that gives him support from more than one-third of the legislature.

Pashinian's move to end, for now, the wave of protests that brought down longtime ruler Serzh Sarkisian last month came after a dramatic day during which crowds he had called into action blocked nearly every major road in the country, paralyzing traffic and business activity on May 2.

Pashinian said there was "virtually no open road" in Yerevan and other cities because many thousands of people joined his call for a general strike after a narrow vote in parliament denied him the prime minister's post on May 1.

WATCH: Live stream from Yerevan via RFE/RL's Armenian Service

Hundreds of people blocked a major highway connecting the capital with the country's main airport, prompting some passengers to walk with their suitcases to make their flights.

Several other major highways -- including those leading to the Georgian and Iranian borders -- were also blocked as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets.

Students Block Streets In Armenian Capital
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The gridlock was so bad that midway through the day, Pashinian called on his supporters to allow passage for all Defense Ministry and emergency vehicles and urged them not to block the army's supply routes or the two strategic highways connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Access to many subway stations in Yerevan was also blocked, and railway traffic was reportedly halted.

"The entire railway is not working," said Vardan Aloian, a spokesman for the Southern Caucasus Railway, the Russian news agency Interfax.

Pashinian Says Victory 'Inevitable' For Armenian Protesters
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Security forces were visible in some places but there were no reports of them intervening in the demonstrations or blockages.

Elsewhere in Yerevan, large groups of students took to the streets again, with some of them heading for university campuses calling on all students to join the strike.

Students and schoolchildren in Masis, a town in Armenia's Ararat Province not far from Yerevan, joined the general strike and were seen demonstrating in front of the city's town hall.

In Vanadzor -- Armenia's third-largest city, some 110 kilometers to the north of the capital -- protesters blocked the buildings of the mayor's office and the regional governor's office.

Residents of the town of Armavir, including striking winery workers, gathered in front of the regional governor's office and demand that he join the "popular movement" or resign.

Yerevan Airport Blockade Sparks Road Rage
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Reports of protests and civil disobedience actions are coming in from other cities and towns across Armenia.

Students and schoolchildren in Masis, a town in Armenia’s Ararat Province not far from Yerevan, joined the general strike and were seen demonstrating in front of the city's town hall.

In Vanadzor -- Armenia’s third-largest city, some 110 kilometers to the north of the capital -- protesters blocked the buildings of the mayor’s office and the regional governor's office.

Residents of the town of Armavir, including striking winery workers, gathered in front of the regional governor’s office and demand that he join the "popular movement" or resign.

Access to many subway stations in Yerevan was blocked, and railway traffic was reportedly halted.
Access to many subway stations in Yerevan was blocked, and railway traffic was reportedly halted.

There were also reports of the workers at many companies joining the call for a general strike.

Earlier on May 2, President Armen Sarkisian called for talks to be held to resolve the crisis before the second parliamentary vote on May 8.

"I deeply regret that the political crisis continues despite the fact that everyone is talking about how dangerous it is for the future of the country," Armen Sarkisian -- who is not related to Serzh Sarkisian -- said in a statement.

General Strike Hits Armenia's Second-Largest City
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His calls were echoed by acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian.

"I am appealing to all political forces to demonstrate [good] will, determination, and flexibility and sit at the [negotiating] table," Karapetian said in a statement. "We all realize that we need quick, civilized, and workable solutions for overcoming the political crisis no matter how difficult that seems."

Karapetian also said: "A prime minister can be elected only in the parliament by constitutional means. There exists no other solution, neither in theory nor in practice."

Under Armenia's constitution, if a prime minister is not elected in the second vote on May 8, parliament will be dissolved and early general elections would be held with the HHK-led acting government in charge of the electoral process.

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian is embraced by a supporter as he takes part in a rally in Yerevan on May 2.
Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian is embraced by a supporter as he takes part in a rally in Yerevan on May 2.

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, in a May 1 statement, called on all political forces to engage in "comprehensive dialogue ahead of the second round of voting on May 8.

"It remains crucial that all parties involved, including the law enforcement agencies and those exercising their right of freedom of assembly and expression, avoid confrontation and show restraint and responsibility, as has been the case in recent days," Mohgerini's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said.

"The European Union reiterates its support to Armenia in its efforts to build a prosperous and democratic society."

A woman walks with her suitcase past protesters blocking the road to the airport in Yerevan on May 2.
A woman walks with her suitcase past protesters blocking the road to the airport in Yerevan on May 2.

With Yerevan under pressure from Moscow to avoid tightening ties with the EU, Armenia and the EU called off plans to sign a landmark Association Agreement in 2013. But they eventually bolstered relations by signing a deal called a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement in November 2017.

Armenia is closely aligned with Russia, which has a large military base in the city of Gyumri. The former Soviet republic is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), two regional groupings dominated by Moscow.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, Interfax, and TASS
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