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Armenians rally against ex-president in Yerevan, scuffles erupt

Thousands of Armenians have flocked to the streets in the country’s capital Yerevan against former president Serzh Sargsyan seeking to maintain his hold on power as prime minister in the new administration.

An estimated 6,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Yerevan on Monday in protest at a constitutional amendment approved in 2015 that will transfer governing powers from the president to the premier and make the presidency largely ceremonial.

The changes were approved in a referendum with 63 percent of support and will take effect next month.

Marching through the center of Yerevan, the protesters blocked the roads leading to parliament and chanted "Armenia without Serzh," and "Serzh is a liar."

Armenian protesters scatter during clashes with police at a rally in central Yerevan on April 16, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Armenian Police warned to use tear gas and other means against the demonstrators if they did not leave the Opera House square and unblock the city center.

Reports said scuffles broke out in the city center and local media quoted a hospital official as saying that three policemen and one protester had been injured. Several arrests were also made.

A demonstrator is detained by police during a protest against Armenia's ruling Republican party's nomination of ex-president Serzh Sargsyan as its candidate for prime minister, in Yerevan, Armenia, on April 16, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

The 63-year-old Sargsyan ended his second and final presidential term last week but has been nominated for the post of prime minister and is expected to be elected by parliament on Tuesday.

"Our goal right now is to prevent Serzh Sargsyan from becoming the country's leader for a third time without violence and the use of force," said opposition leader Nikol Pashinian who organized the mass rally.

Sargsyan, whose party holds a majority in parliament, has defended the constitutional reforms as a measure that would consolidate Armenia’s democracy and improve the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.

Critics of the former military officer say the reforms have been designed to increase his power in a new capacity as premier.

Armenia's then president Serzh Sargsyan arrives for an EU Eastern Partnership summit with six eastern partner countries at the European Council in Brussels on November 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Sargsyan has already served as premier in 2007-2008 and so far has not explicitly confirmed that he will seek to become prime minister again.

Tensions in Armenia often flare up during presidential and parliamentary elections. After Sargsyan was first elected president in February 2008, 10 people lost their lives in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.

Armen Sarkisian, the country's new president, was sworn in last week, but his powers will be weaker under the new parliamentary system of government.  

During his inauguration ceremony on April 9, the new Armenian president pledged to work for improvements in the justice system and fight against corruption.

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