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Armenia’s president rebuffs PM order for army chief dismissal as protests continue

Protesters rally in Armenia's capital, Yerevan on February 26, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Armenia’s president has refused to sign a decree by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to dismiss the army's chief of staff, amid a political crisis that has grown over the government's handling of last year's war with Azerbaijan.

The prime minister sent an order for approval to President Armen Sarkissian’s office to dismiss Chief of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan.

Pashinyan made the decree after the military called for his resignation last week.

The military's general staff said in a statement that the prime minister and his cabinet were “not capable of taking adequate decisions.”

But the president’s office rebuffed the decree on Saturday, describing it as “unconstitutional.”

The president said that the political crisis “cannot be resolved through frequent personnel changes.”

“Within his presidential powers, the president has sent back the draft order with objections,” said the presidential office.

“There is no doubt that the Armed Forces should maintain political neutrality … In no way must they be neglected,” now that the country is experiencing an unprecedented situation, said the president.

Pashinyan, however, said in a Facebook post that he would send the order to the presidency once more.

The political dispute came as thousands of protesters were calling for Pashinyan’s resignation in the capital Yerevan, over his handling of six weeks of war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The fierce fighting that escalated over the disputed south Caucasus territory, came to an end in November last year, after the two sides signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire.

The truce deal, that left Azerbaijan largely in control of the territory, has sparked angry protests in Armenia, ever since.

Pashinyan defended the decision, saying that he had no choice but to agree to the ceasefire or see his country's forces suffer even bigger losses.

Armenia handed over disputed territories to Azerbaijan, back then.

Protests erupted again on Thursday when Pashinyan defied the army call to step down, and accused the army of an attempted coup.

Some 5,000 protesters took to the streets in Yerevan on Saturday, with many people gathering in front of the parliament building, urging lawmakers to take action.

“He must be responsible for the defeat in the war, for the signing of a humiliating agreement," said one protester.

Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it has been held by ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Armenia since 1992, when they broke from Azerbaijan in a war that killed some 30,000 people.

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