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World

AFP
June 14, 2018

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Armenia PM vows to fight graft ‘using FB’

YEREVAN: Armenia’s new prime minister said he would fight graft with any means possible, after being swept to power on the back of mass street protests, in one of his first conversations with foreign media.

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Nikol Pashinyan was elected by parliament last month after he spearheaded weeks of social media-fuelled demonstrations against veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian and his ruling party. Pashinyan told AFP and other French media he would use the likes of Facebook and Twitter to cleanse the poor ex-Soviet nation of widespread corruption, one of its main scourges.

A judge who takes a bribe could be publicly named and shamed on the sites, he said. "Really, a solution to some problems is much simpler" than one might think, he added. The prime minister and his supporters accused Sarkisian of clinging to power and failure to root out mass poverty and corruption in the country of 2.9 million people, nestled at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Pashinyan has a large online following and the number of people visiting his Facebook page and Youtube channel exceeds the number of Armenians living in the country and outside its borders, the father of four said.

"It’s not by spending thousands of dollars that one should fight corruption, it’s simply about the number one not being corrupt, that’s all," he said. An unprecedented campaign of civil disobedience led to Sarkisian’s shock resignation in April, just a week after he had shifted to the newly-empowered role of prime minister after serving as president for a decade.

Pashinyan said he had managed to convince his compatriots to follow him because over the past two decades he had lived "a visible life, a public life". He became a journalist in 1992, penning articles critical of the Armenian government which he said "quickly resonated with society."

Elected a lawmaker last year, Pashinyan won an audience by grilling ministers in parliament, with his diatribes going viral on the internet. He remains an avid blogger even after winning the country’s top job.

After becoming prime minister he gave his compatriots a sneak peek inside his new office using a selfie stick. While promising to push through anti-graft and economic reforms, Pashinyan said Armenia’s foreign policy will not change.

Armenia is hugely dependent on Russia economically and militarily and Pashinyan has repeatedly said his premiership would not threaten traditionally tight ties with Moscow. He will attend the opening of the World Cup in Russia on Thursday after meeting President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday evening.

The two also met in the Russian resort city of Sochi last month. Armenia is also mulling the possibility of buying Iranian natural gas as an alternative to Russian energy supplies, but will remain a member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union.

"Our foreign policy will not be pro-Western or pro-Russian, as it will not be anti-Western or anti-Russian," he said. "A political figure in Armenia can only be pro-Armenian."

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