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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Armenian PM rejects demands to quit on 10th day of protests

Protesters accuse Mr Sarksyan of clinging to power after he was appointed premier this month following 10 years as president

A man lies on the ground near law enforcement officers as participants of the rally protest against the appointment of ex-president Serzh Sarksyan as the new prime minister and demand an early parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia April 22, 2018. Vahram Baghdasaryan / Reuters
A man lies on the ground near law enforcement officers as participants of the rally protest against the appointment of ex-president Serzh Sarksyan as the new prime minister and demand an early parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia April 22, 2018. Vahram Baghdasaryan / Reuters

Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan rejected on Sunday opposition demands to step down, as protests against the former president's appointment as premier extended to a 10th day.

Protesters accuse Mr Sarksyan of clinging to power after he was appointed premier this month following 10 years as president. Tens of thousands of opponents have marched through Yerevan, blocking streets in the city centre and staging sit-ins.

Under a revised constitution approved in a 2015 referendum, most state powers in the small, ex-Soviet state have shifted to the prime minister while the presidency has become a largely ceremonial post.

Mr Sarksyan met the opposition lawmaker leading the protests, Nikol Pashinyan, in Yerevan on Sunday but left talks a few minutes after they began.

Armenian PM Serzh Sarkisian (L) stands before leaving a televised meeting with anti-government protest leader Nikol Pashinyan (R) shortly after it began in a hotel in Yerevan on April 22, 2018, denouncing the opposition's "blackmail" after 10 days of mass demonstrations. Vano Shlamov / AFP
Armenian PM Serzh Sarkisian (L) stands before leaving a televised meeting with anti-government protest leader Nikol Pashinyan (R) shortly after it began in a hotel in Yerevan on April 22, 2018, denouncing the opposition's "blackmail" after 10 days of mass demonstrations. Vano Shlamov / AFP

"This is not talks, not a dialogue, it's just an ultimatum, blackmail of the state, of the legitimate authorities," Mr Sarksyan told Mr Pashinyan.

He said the opposition "did not learn the lesson of March 1", referring to a protest rally after his re-election in 2008 when 10 people were killed in clashes with police.

Parliament voted on Tuesday to allow Mr Sarksyan to become premier.

"No one has dared and will dare speak to us in the language of threats. I am telling you: you have no understanding of the situation in the country. The situation is different to the one you knew 15-20 days ago," Mr Pashinyan told Sarksyan on Sunday.

"The situation in Armenia has changed, you don't have the power of which you are told. In Armenia, the power has passed to the people," he said.

Mr Pashinyan was “forcibly taken” from a protest rally on Sunday, Armenia police said.

They dismissed, however, reports of his arrest as riot police and demonstrators clashed in the capital.

"Despite repeated calls to stop illegal rallies, Pashinyan continued leading a demonstration" in Yerevan, police said in a statement.

It added that Mr Pashinyan and two other opposition MPs "were forcibly taken from the site" as riot police dispersed the rally.