YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) – Hundreds of opposition supporters surrounded government buildings in Armenia‘s capital on Saturday to push for the resignation of the country’s prime minister.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced demands to step down since Armenia suffered a humiliating defeat last year in an armed conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory within Azerbaijan that Armenia-backed separatists controlled for more than 25 years.
Demonstrators shouting “Nikol you traitor!” and “Nikol go away!” surrounded the Foreign Ministry’s headquarters where Pashinyan had a meeting on Saturday. Later in the day, they ringed the residence of the country’s mostly ceremonial president, Armen Sarkissian, when Pashinyan went there for talks on ending the political crisis.
Some of the demonstrators engaged in brief scuffles with police.
Pashinyan has defended a November peace deal that ended the six weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh as the only way to prevent Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire region.
Tensions spiked last month when the military’s General Staff demanded Pashinyan’s resignation. The prime minister responded by firing the country’s highest military officer, who appealed his dismissal in court.
Pashinyan has offered to hold an early parliamentary election later this year but staunchly rejected the opposition’s demand for him to step down before the vote. The 45-year-old former journalist has retained significant public backing despite the defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, with thousands rallying in his support to counter the opposition-led pressure for his resignation.
President Sarkissian sought to play mediator by offering to host a meeting between Pashinyan and his political foes, but he had to call it off after the opposition said it would only accept a meeting to discuss the prime minister’s resignation.
More than 6,000 people were killed in the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, 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 Russia-brokered peace deal let Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
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