YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Thousands of opposition supporters blockaded the Armenian parliament building on Tuesday to press a demand for the country’s prime minister to step down.
Nikol Pashinyan has rejected the opposition’s pressure to resign over a November peace deal that ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, in which Azerbaijan routed the Armenian forces.
The political tensions escalated last month when the military’s General Staff demanded Pashinyan’s resignation, and he responded by firing the chief of the General Staff, Col. Gen. Onik Gasparyan.
On Tuesday, the opposition sought to build pressure on Pashinyan by urging its supporters to blockade the parliament. Thousands of opposition demonstrators surrounded the parliament building and engaged in occasional scuffles with police.
Vazgen Manukyan, a veteran politician whom the opposition named as a prospective caretaker prime minister, predicted that the military won’t accept Pashinyan’s order to dismiss the General Staff chief.
“The army will not step back because it’s not just one man’s problem,” he said.
As part of maneuvering to defuse the political crisis, Pashinyan offered to hold an early parliamentary vote later this year, but rejected the opposition’s demand to step down before the vote.
Artur Vanetsyan, the former head of the National Security Service who leads the Homeland opposition party, emphasized that “we believe that that the elections mustn’t be held under Nikol Pashinyan’s rule.”
Pashinyan has faced opposition demands to resign since Nov. 10 when a Russia-brokered peace deal ended 44 days of intense fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh that killed more than 6,000. The agreement saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century.
Pashinyan, a 45-year-old former journalist who came to power after leading large street protests in 2018 that ousted his predecessor, has defended the peace deal as the only way to prevent the Azerbaijani army from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
Russia has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the peace deal.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.