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Pashinian Leads Armenians In Procession To Mourn Deaths In Recent Conflict

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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (second from left) emerges from the main government building in Yerevan to lead a procession to the Erablur Military Pantheon on December 19.

Armenians on December 19 began three days of mourning for those who died in six weeks of fierce fighting against Azerbaijani forces in and around Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Masked against the coronavirus and surrounded by security, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian joined a crowd of thousands in downtown Yerevan shortly after 1 p.m. local time for a procession to honor the dead in the September-November escalation.

Pashinian had said the march would follow a route, familiar to many Armenians who have grown up in the shadow of a "frozen conflict," from Republic Square to the Erablur Military Pantheon, on the outskirts of the capital.

Scuffles With Police

At the military memorial cemetery, the prime minister's opponents, shouting “Nikol, you traitor!,” engaged in scuffles with his supporters and police.

Police dispersed the protesters to clear the way for Pashinian and his security guards covered him with shields and umbrellas as protesters attempted to hit him with eggs.

Armenian Prime Minister Heckled During March To Mourn War Victims
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Later in the day, about 20,000 opposition supporters marched across Yerevan for a memorial church service for the victims of the conflict.

Also on December 19, 14 retired military generals issued a statement calling for the resignation of the government over its handling of the latest fighting, the AP news agency reported.

Pashinian has been under political fire since agreeing to a Moscow-brokered deal with Azerbaijan that took effect on November 10.

The opposition held a similar, torch-lit procession the previous evening that also attracted many people.

His opponents want the prime minister to quit over what they say was his disastrous handling of the conflict, which handed Azerbaijan swaths of territory that ethnic Armenians had controlled since the 1990s.

Some mothers of soldiers who were killed vowed in a statement quoted by Interfax not to allow Pashinian onto the grounds of the pantheon, which lies on a hilltop on the outskirts of the capital and is a burial place for Armenian casualties of the long-running conflict.

Pashinian's critics also planned a rally to begin shortly after the Pashinian-led event started on December 19 to renew calls for his resignation.

Another anti-Pashinian rally is slated for December 22 along with a national strike the same day.

Armenian opposition supporters take part in a torchlight procession in Yerevan on December 18.
Armenian opposition supporters take part in a torchlight procession in Yerevan on December 18.

Meanwhile, parents and relatives of dozens of ethnic Armenian soldiers reportedly captured in a raid by Azerbaijani forces on December 12 -- more than a month after the current cease-fire -- have been blocking highways and protesting to press their demand for the return of their loved ones.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said it had launched an offensive against Armenian servicemen who had refused to leave an area near Khtsaberd (Caylaqqala in Azeri), in the district of Hadrut.

Pashinian said the Azerbaijani troops took advantage of the fact that Russian peacekeepers hadn't yet reached the area to "attack villages." He has demanded the return of the captives to allow for a return to searching for other soldiers still missing from the fighting.

Armenian officials were reportedly preparing a case on some of the affected ethnic Armenians to take to the European Court of Human Rights.

More than 5,600 people on both sides, including civilians, have been confirmed killed in the heavy clashes that erupted in late September and threatened to draw regional powers Russia and Turkey into the conflict.

Prayer services for the fallen will be held at churches nationwide in Armenia on December 20 as part of the three-day mourning period.

With additional reporting by Interfax an AP
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