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Armenians break into government building, pushing prime minister to resign

Opposition demonstrators carrying the national flag of Armenia and that of the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh march on the government buildings in Yerevan, March 1, 2021. (Photo by AP)

A group of Armenian protesters have barged into a government building to pressure Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign over the outcome of last year’s bloody war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Angry protesters pushed their way into the premises in the capital Yerevan on Monday, chanting slogans for Pashinyan’s downfall, ahead of rival street demonstrations planned to be held later in the day in support of the 45-year-old journalist-turned-politician, the RIA news agency reported.

For the past several months, the Armenian prime minister has been under immense pressure to step down over what the opposition and protesters describe as his mishandling of the 2020 conflict with Azerbaijan. Till now, Pashinyan has resisted mounting pressure to resign.

The embattled premier approved a Russia-brokered deal in November 2020 to end Yerevan’s conflict with Baku over the Karabakh region, committing himself to the withdrawal of all Armenian forces from the occupied Azerbaijani territories.

He also agreed to cede swathes of territory in and around Karabakh to end fighting, in a move that has outraged Armenians who consider the deal as a “concession of defeat.”

Last week, the army demanded that the premier resign, prompting him to decry a coup attempt and relieve the army’s top general of his duties.

President Armen Sarkissian, however, refused to sign off on the general’s removal on Saturday, declaring it unconstitutional. Pashinyan has sent back his decree demanding the general’s dismissal to the president’s office.

Earlier on Monday, Armenia’s Security Council urged Sarkissian to ratify the dismissal. RIA reported that Pashinyan also met the president on Monday.

Pashinyan defends his decision in signing the deal to end the war, saying that he had no choice but to agree to the ceasefire or see his country's forces suffer even bigger losses. He has accepted responsibility for the outcome of the Armenia-Azerbaijan war but rejected calls to step down.

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.

Armenian prime minister says ready for early elections to end crisis

Later on Monday, Pashinyan said he was ready to call early elections to bring the country out of the political crisis.

"If the parliamentary opposition agrees to early elections, we will agree to early elections," he told thousands of supporters gathered in Yerevan's central Republic Square.

Pashinyan added that he was ready to give opposition parties demanding his resignation "a second chance" to defeat him in a vote.

"Let's go to the polls and see whose resignation the people are demanding," he said Pashinyan.

The Armenian prime minister also admitted to having made mistakes during the conflict, but said "only the people can decide who will remain in power."

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