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Armenia’s political tensions heat up with rival rallies

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced calls to resign since he signed a peace deal with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

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Protesters have been demanding the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

Protesters have been demanding the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

Protesters have been demanding the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

Political tensions in Armenia are intensifying as supporters of the embattled prime minister and the opposition plan rival rallies in the capital.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced opposition demands to resign since he signed a peace deal in November that ended six weeks of intense fighting with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Russia-brokered 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 of a century.

Opposition protests seeking Mr Pashinyan’s ouster abated during the winter but intensified again last week amid Mr Pashinyan’s rift with the country’s top military.

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The protests were sparked by the Armenia’s defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

The protests were sparked by the Armenia’s defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

AP/PA Images

The protests were sparked by the Armenia’s defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

The spat was sparked by Mr Pashinyan firing a deputy chief of the military’s General Staff who laughed off his claim that only 10% of Russia-supplied Iskander missiles that Armenia used in the conflict exploded on impact.

The General Staff then demanded Mr Pashinyan’s resignation, and the prime minister responded by dismissing the General Staff chief, Colonel General Onik Gasparyan. The dismissal is yet to be approved by the nation’s largely ceremonial president, Armen Sarkissian, who sent it back to the prime minister, claiming that the move was unconstitutional.

Mr Pashinyan quickly resubmitted the demand for the general’s ouster, and his allies are warning that the president could be impeached if he fails to endorse the move.

Mr Sarkissian’s office responded with a strongly worded statement condemning “inadmissible speculation” about his move and emphasising that his decision was “unbiased and driven exclusively by national interests”.

Amid the escalating tensions, a group of protesters broke into a government building in central Yerevan on Monday to press their demand for Mr Pashinyan’s resignation, but left shortly after without violence. Later on Monday, Mr Pashinyan’s supporters and the opposition plan rival rallies in the Armenian capital.

Mr Pashinyan, a former journalist who came to power after leading massive street protests in 2018 that ousted his predecessor, still continues to enjoy broad support despite the country’s humiliating defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh and the opposition calls for his resignation.

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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)

AP/PA Images

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (Tigran Mehrabyan/PAN Photo via AP)

The prime minister defended the peace deal as a painful but necessary move to prevent Azerbaijan 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.

The fighting with Azerbaijan that erupted in late September and lasted for 44 days has left more than 6,000 people dead. Russia has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the November 10 peace deal.

Armenia has relied on Moscow’s financial and military support and hosts a Russian military base – ties that will keep the two nations closely allied regardless of the outcome of the political infighting.

Last week, the Russian Defence Ministry rebuked the Armenian leader for debasing the Iskander missile, a state-of-the-art weapon touted by the military for its accuracy, saying it was “bewildered” to hear Mr Pashinyan’s claim because the Armenian military had not fired an Iskander missile during the conflict.

In a bid to repair the damage, Mr Pashinyan rescinded his statement on Monday, acknowledging that he made the statement after being misled.

PA


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