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AFP
February 26, 2021

Armenia PM takes to the streets to denounce ‘coup attempt’

World

AFP
February 26, 2021

YEREVAN: Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused the military of an attempted coup and brought supporters to the streets on Thursday, as months of tensions over its defeat in last year’s war with Azerbaijan came to a head.

Thousands marched through the streets of the capital Yerevan in support of Pashinyan, with the opposition urging him to step down to avoid bloodshed or even civil war. President Armen Sarkisian, whose role is largely symbolic, said he was taking urgent steps to try to defuse the crisis, calling on all involved to “show restraint and common sense”.

Under pressure for his handling of the conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Pashinyan has ignored repeated calls to resign for losing swathes of territory to Azerbaijan in the war. After largely backing the prime minister for months, the military’s general staff on Thursday joined calls for him to step down, saying in a statement that he and his cabinet “are not capable of taking adequate decisions”.

Pashinyan hit back with an accusation that top brass were mounting an “attempted military coup” and fired the chief of the general staff Onik Gasparyan. Hundreds of supporters then joined Pashinyan to march through central Yerevan, chanting “Nikol Prime Minister!”

Speaking to supporters through a megaphone, Pashinyan called for calm, as dozens of police deployed outside the main government offices. “The situation is tense, but we must agree that there cannot be clashes,” said Pashinyan, who was joined at the march by his wife, daughters, ministers and security detail.

He said the situation in the country was under control and that the military’s call had been an “emotional reaction” to his firing the previous day of the deputy chief of the general staff Tigran Khachatryan.

Khachatryan had ridiculed claims by Pashinyan that Iskander missiles supplied by Russia — Armenia’s main military ally — had failed to hit targets during the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia’s opposition — who have been calling for Pashinyan’s resignation since a ceasefire deal in November — urged him to heed to military’s call. “We call on Nikol Pashinyan not to lead the country towards civil war and to avoid bloodshed. Pashinyan has one last chance to avoid turmoil,” Prosperous Armenia, the country’s largest opposition party, said in a statement.

Prosperous Armenia and another opposition party, Bright Armenia, called for the holding of an extraordinary session of parliament, which is controlled by Pashinyan’s allies. Armenia’s influential Apostolic Church called for all sides to hold talks to resolve the crisis, “for the sake of our homeland and people”.