Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Armenian News... A Topalian... Armenia unrest: Protesters rally after leader detained

BBC News, UK
April 22 2018

Thousands of anti-government protesters have rallied defiantly in the Armenian capital Yerevan after riot police seized their leader.
Nikol Pashinyan was arrested after televised talks with Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan collapsed.

In a tense exchange, the opposition MP insisted the PM should quit and Mr Sargsyan accused him of "blackmail".
The opposition object to Mr Sargsyan clinging to power after serving two consecutive terms as president.
He was elected to the post by parliament on Tuesday, fuelling anger on the streets.

As well as Mr Pashinyan, two other opposition politicians and some 200 demonstrators have been held, leaving the protest movement without political leadership.

The EU, which has a partnership agreement with Armenia, called on all sides to "show restraint and act responsibly".

Protesters undeterred

By Rayhan Demytrie, BBC News, in Armenia's capital Yerevan 
Armenia's biggest square is full of protesters. The detention of Mr Pashinyan and other opposition leaders did not stop protesters from turning up. They are holding placards that read "I am Nikol" and chanting his name, along with another slogan, "Serzh go".
University student Elina Isahanyan, wrapped in the Armenian flag, says she has been participating in the protests for nine days. 

"My friends and I are not attending classes. This is our way to show to this new government that we want change," she says.
"We are peaceful and we don't want any violence. We don't want the police to be against us."

Buses loaded with police in flak jackets can be seen in the streets leading up to the square. The justice ministry issued a warning reminding citizens that the police have the right to disperse demonstrations regardless of the nature of the protests. 
Protests against Mr Sargsyan have been held in other parts of Armenia - the second largest city of Guymri and the city of Vanadzor. 

How did Sunday's meeting fall apart?

Mr Pashinyan was previously jailed over his part in protests against Mr Sargsyan in 2008. He recently described the campaign he leads as a "velvet revolution", referring to the peaceful protests in 1989 that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

He met Mr Sargsyan at a hotel in Yerevan on Sunday morning, in the presence of dozens of journalists. 

The exchange was brief. After the prime minister said he was glad his rival had "responded to my numerous appeals to negotiate", Mr Pashinyan struck an uncompromising note.

"I think there is a misunderstanding," he said. "I have come here to discuss the terms of your resignation and the terms of a peaceful and smooth transition of power."

Mr Sargsyan said that "this is not a dialogue, this is blackmail" and left.

Addressing the assembled reporters afterwards, Mr Pashinyan called on his supporters to continue their protests, which have continued for more than a week.

He was detained shortly afterwards, as riot police using stun grenades dispersed protesters. 

Image caption Masked police have been holding back the crowds 
His supporters then gathered outside a police station where they believed he was being held before they set off towards the capital's central Republic Square. 

Why is there such anger at Serzh Sargsyan?

He has been accused of failing to address continuing tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as widespread poverty at home.
His government has also been criticised by the opposition for its close ties to Russia, whose leader Vladimir Putin also moved between the positions of president and prime minister to maintain his grip on power.

While he was president, the country shifted from a presidential system to a parliamentary republic, vesting real power in the office of the prime minister.

He stood for prime minister despite promising he would not.
His supporters argue that the tough veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Azerbaijan in the late 1980s has provided the national security Armenia needs.

What dangers lie ahead?

Serzh Sargsyan, who served as president from 2008 until this year, has been left largely unchallenged for years because of a lack of clear rivals and alternatives, Armenian affairs analyst Richard Giragosian tells BBC News. 

"Pashinyan was the exception with his unique combination of charisma with a good sense of street politics, which only makes this current confrontation more serious." he says.

The power of the ruling Republican Party is potentially even more dangerous as it "undermines the necessity for consensus and compromise".

"The real question now is what lies ahead. After such polarisation and dissent, the launch of parliamentary politics seems destined to fail, undermined by an inherent lack of trust or public confidence." 
However the crisis plays out, "there is little or no foreign policy dimension", he adds. "It is not about Russia and not about Europe. It is local politics and economics."

Voice of America
April 21 2018
Prime Minister: Armenia Needs Me, Protesters Say No 

Tens of thousands of Armenian opposition supporters rallied Saturday for a ninth consecutive day to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan, but he said the country needed his experience to tackle problems such as Nagorno-Karabakh.
Sarksyan was appointed prime minister this month after serving 10 years as president. The protesters accuse him of clinging to power and demand that he step down.

“In this region with a complex geopolitics and at a time of new challenges we must ensure the stable development of the country and continue efforts aimed at a suitable settlement of the Karabakh problem,” Sarksyan said in an open letter cited by the government’s press office.

“I believe these problems can be resolved. After that, other figures can take the helm,” he said.

Demonstrators attend a protest against Armenia's ruling Republican party's nomination of former President Serzh Sarksyan as its candidate for prime minister, in Yerevan, Armenia, April 16, 2018.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous part of Azerbaijan, is run by ethnic Armenians who declared independence during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia still regularly accuse each other of carrying out attacks in the area. The conflict flared up again in 2016 and saw a number of deadly incidents over the past year.

The leader of the protests in Yerevan, opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan, said Sarksyan had agreed to talks with the opposition at a hotel in the capital Sunday morning.

Sarksyan’s spokesman was not immediately available to confirm the meeting.

‘Say no to Serzh’
As on previous days, the protesters marched through Yerevan on Saturday waving national flags and chanting: “Make a stand, say no to Serzh.”

They blocked several streets in the center and staged sit-ins. Police detained about 200 activists.

Armenia’s new president, Armen Sarkissian, an ally of Sarksyan, on Saturday met with Pashinyan, the protest leader, and urged dialogue. Sarkissian was sworn in as president last week after being elected by parliament in March.

On Tuesday, the parliament voted to allow Sarksyan, who served as president of the small ex-Soviet republic from 2008 until this month, to become premier.

Under a revised constitution approved by a referendum in 2015, the prime minister now has the most power in Armenia, while the presidency has become largely ceremonial.

Armenia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 but remains dependent on Russia for aid and investment. Many Armenians accuse the government of corruption and mishandling an economy that has struggled to overcome the legacy of central planning.

The Telegraph, UK
April 22 2018
Armenian crisis worsens as opposition leader detained during protest 

Armenian police on Sunday detained an opposition MP after ten days of anti-government protests and accusations of a power grab levied against Serzh Sargsyan, the prime minister.

Nikol Pashinyan was picked up by officers at a demonstration in Yerevan on Sunday, following a televised interview between him and Mr Sargsyan, which the prime minister cut short.

Police said in a statement: "Despite repeated calls to stop illegal rallies, Pashinyan continued leading a demonstration".  It added that he and two other opposition politicians "were forcibly taken from the site".

The prosecutor general's office said that Mr Pashinyan and the other two "were detained as they were committing socially dangerous acts".

As an MP, Mr Pashinyan is protected by parliamentary immunity and cannot be arrested without the approval of lawmakers. His whereabouts is currently unclear.

His detention came on the tenth day of mass protests against Mr Sargsyan, who assumed the role of prime minister on April 17 after two five-year terms as president. 

In 2015, Mr Sargsyan tabled a controversial reform handing the main powers to the prime minister, a move that opposition supporters consider a power grab.

Mr Pashinyan challenged Mr Sargsyan to a debate at a hotel in Yerevan on Sunday, during which the prime minister said he was pleased the protest leader had "responded to my numerous appeals to negotiate".

However, Mr Pashinyan replied that there had been a misunderstanding, adding that he only wanted to discuss the terms of the leader's resignation and the "terms of a peaceful and smooth transition of power."

"You don't understand the situation in Armenia. The power is now in people's hands," he said.

Mr Sargsyan, Armenia's former head of defence, stormed out of the interview, pointing out that Mr Pashinyan's party only won eight per cent of the vote, and accusing him of "blackmail".

At the rally, Mr Pashinyan urged police officers to "lay down arms and join in the protests" before riot police dispersed the crowd of thousands using stun grenades.

Journalists at the scene reported that dozens of protesters were also detained.

Demonstrators at the rally were protesting rampant corruption in Armenia's judicial system, police, and education, as well as poverty.  
Since 2008, the poverty rate in Armenia has increased by two per cent to 29.8 per cent, according to World Bank figures.

Gulf News, UAE
April 22 2018
Four things to know about Armenia’s protests
While the president cannot serve more than two terms, Serzh Sarkisian, the head of state since 2008, put forward a controversial reform in 2015 handing the main powers to the prime minister
Yerevan: Thousands of people in Armenia have been protesting for 10 days against ex-president Serzh Sarkisian taking up a new position as premier with sweeping powers, also denouncing corruption under his rule.
Here are four reasons why Armenians have taken to the streets.
A ‘power grab’ 
While the president cannot serve more than two terms, Serzh Sarkisian, the head of state since 2008, put forward a controversial reform in 2015 handing the main powers to the prime minister.
Sarkisian ended his final presidential term last week, before being nominated as premier by the ruling party.
Opposition supporters see this as a power grab by the former military man, who has held senior government positions since the country’s independence in 1991.
The key message behind the protests “is that people don’t want to let Sarkisian serve a third term and for the country to go down the Central Asian road,” analyst Ervand Boozoyan told AFP.
Until now, all presidents of an independent Armenia left power when their terms ended.
“The fact that the same person is in charge of the country for the third term in a row is unprecedented,” Boozoyan told AFP.
“All previous presidents left on time, but he promised to leave only when he finds himself a successor. Nobody knows what he will do in reality,” sociologist Gevorg Pogosyan told AFP.
Beyond Sarkisian’s efforts to extend his rule, protesters have accused him of failing to reduce poverty while giving oligarchs the upper hand in the economy.
The poverty rate in Armenia was 29.8 per cent in 2016 compared to 27.6 per cent in 2008, when Sarkisian became president, according to the World Bank.
“Many people have no work, they live in poverty,” said analyst Hakob Badalyan.
One protester, 26 year-old Karapet Ananyan, told AFP he was “very naive to think he would find a job” with his diploma from a prestigious economy school.
“I’ve been looking for a job for three years, everywhere I go they say there are no places. The authorities constantly promise to create work places without doing so,” Ananyan said.
The protesters also denounce rampant corruption in Armenia’s judicial system and the police, as well as the education system.
“Corruption and injustice is suffocating the country. If you want to open a small business, you need to bribe an official. Tax officers want bribes, teachers want presents. It is impossible to tolerate any more,” Mushef Hachatryan, a 52-year-old unemployed protester, told AFP.
“And who created this situation, who is responsible? Serzh Sarkisian, of course,” he added.
Badalyan, the analyst, highlighted that the protesters were from various social backgrounds.
“It is not only poor people but also those who have comfortable lives, who have a nice apartment and a car,” he said.
“This means they cannot tolerate this general atmosphere of injustice.”
No geopolitical factor
Serzh Sarkisian is seen as a pro-Russian politician but this has not been a factor in the demonstrations, unlike in Ukraine’s Maidan protest movement that forced out Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.
“I want to declare that there is no geopolitical context in this political process,” Nikol Pashinyan said last week.
“We are not directed by US interests, EU interests or Russia interests. The only thing we need to do is to serve the interests of Armenia.”

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