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Dozens of opposition protesters arrested in Armenia


Armenian policemen detain an opposition supporters during a rally in central Yerevan on April 20, 2018 against ex-president Serzh Sarkisian’s election as prime minister that saw dozens of people arrested. / AFP PHOTO / Karen MINASYAN

Police arrested more than 180 people as opposition supporters staged sit-ins and attempted to block traffic in Armenia’s capital Friday, the latest in days of protests at what they are branding a power-grab by ex-president Serzh Sarkisian.

For the past week, thousands of opposition supporters have held rallies to denounce Sarkisian’s efforts to remain in power as prime minister after a decade serving as president.

On Friday, demonstrators waved national flags and held up placards reading “Sarkisian is a dictator” as rallies in the impoverished ex-Soviet country went into their eighth day.

Protesters tried to block roads in response to repeated calls by the leader of the protests, lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan, to paralyse traffic, but police prevented those attempts.

A police spokesman told AFP that more than 180 people were detained in the capital.

Protesters also rallied in the second city of Gyumri where they attempted to block a main road leading to the capital.

Constitutional amendments approved in 2015 have transferred governing powers from the presidency to the premier.

Sarkisian remained the country’s top leader even after he transitioned to the post of prime minister after a parliament vote this week.

‘Arbitrary arrests’
Opposition supporters have criticised the 63-year-old leader over poverty, corruption and the influence of powerful oligarchs.

The spokesman for Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party said the newly elected prime minister would not step down.

“We respects citizens’ right to freedom of assembly but we rule out the possibility of the prime minister resigning,” Eduard Sharmazanov told journalists late Thursday.

Human Rights Watch condemned the “arbitrary arrests” of demonstrators.

“One should not underestimate the challenges Armenia’s police are facing in maintaining law and order, but the ongoing protests are no justification to arbitrarily detain people,” it said in a statement late Thursday.

Under a new parliamentary system of government, lawmakers elected Sarkisian as prime minister on Tuesday after he served a decade as president from 2008.

‘Peaceful disobedience’
Protest leader Pashinyan this week called for “a peaceful velvet revolution.”

“The mechanism we are using is peaceful disobedience,” he told AFP in an interview.

“The velvet revolution is not a request addressed to the authorities but an action by the people who want all state authorities to stop obeying Serzh Sarkisian and take the side of the people including police,” he said.

Analysts say that the opposition so far lacks resources to oust the leader even though huge public anger has built up over recent years.

The number of demonstrators has somewhat dwindled over the past few days, down from roughly 40,000 who took to the streets Tuesday evening when Sarkisian was elected by parliament.

On Thursday, more than 15,000 protesters staged a rally outside government headquarters as Sarkisian chaired his first cabinet meeting since the controversial vote.

On Monday police used stun grenades against protesters who tried to break through a barbed wire cordon to get to the parliament building.

Authorities said at the time that 46 people, including six police and Pashinyan sought medical help.

The country’s new president, Armen Sarkisian — no relation to the prime minister — was sworn in last week but his post is largely ceremonial under the new system of government.

A former military officer, Serzh Sarkisian has been in charge of the landlocked South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million people for a decade.

He also held the office of prime minister from 2007 to 2008.

After he was first elected in 2008, 10 people died and hundreds were injured in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.

In this article:
ArmeniaSerzh Sarkisian
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