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Armenia parliament sets May 1 as date to elect new premier

Armenian opposition supporters attend a rally in downtown Yerevan on April 26, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Armenia’s parliament has set May 1 as the date to elect a new prime minister as authorities struggle to settle a widening political dispute that has gripped the South Caucasus nation for weeks.

“I announce that the question of choosing a prime minister will be debated on May 1 ... at a special session of the National Assembly,” Chairman of the National Assembly of Armenia Ara Babloyan said Thursday.

The announcement came three days after Serzh Sargsyan, who served as Armenia’s president for 10 years before he was elected premier on April 17, stepped down in the face of mass street protests against his alleged bid to cling to power.

Sargsyan’s ruling Republican Party has refused to hand over power as demanded by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, who himself was nominated to become prime minister by the Yelk opposition bloc on Wednesday, but the bid failed due to lack of majority in parliament.

Armenian protest leader Nikol Pashinyan addresses supporters during a rally in Yerevan on April 26, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for the Republican Party, said it was “realistic” that a new prime minister would already be elected on May 1.

Other sources said senior officials from the ruling party, including acting Vice Premier Armen Gevorkyan and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan, were in Russia on Thursday to discuss a way out of the current political deadlock. Russia has backed Armenia in a decades-long territorial dispute with Azerbaijan. The Russian military also has a permanent presence in the country.

Sources said Pashinyan had also met with Russian embassy officials in Yerevan while Russian President Vladimir Putin had held a phone call on Wednesday with his Armenian counterpart Armen Sarkisian to urge restraint in the current political turmoil.

Sarkisian said Thursday that Armenia was experiencing a new chapter of its history, calling on all political forces to join hands to end the dispute.

“All political forces, especially the representatives of the National Assembly, should be coordinated to establish this new path, guided by the Constitution of our country,” said Sarkisian, adding, “We live in a New Armenia.”

Demonstrations continued in Yerevan and elsewhere on Thursday, with protesters insisting they would not leave the streets until the ruling party ceded power.

Heavy police deployment could be seen around buildings housing government and ruling party offices. However, some police commanders said they would not take sides with any party of the conflict, rejecting a demand by the government to clear the streets in central parts of Yerevan from protesters.

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