Wednesday, December 7

Armenia celebrates as veteran leader quits amid protests


People celebrate Armenian prime minister Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation. — AFP photo

YEREVAN: Armenia’s veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian resigned on Monday after mass protests against his election as prime minister with sweeping powers, sparking celebrations across the impoverished country.

Last week lawmakers voted for Sarkisian as prime minister after he served a decade as Armenia’s president, triggering political turmoil in the Moscow-allied nation of 2.9 million people.

The opposition said the move was designed to extend his chokehold on power under a new parliamentary system of government, with tens of thousands taking to the streets of the capital Yerevan and other cities in recent days in largely peaceful protests.

On Monday evening the health ministry said one demonstrator, a 36-year-old man, died of heart failure after a celebratory rally in Yerevan.

“Our velvet revolution has won but this is only the first step,” protest leader Nikol Pashinyan told supporters at the rally in Yerevan’s Republic Square.

“Our revolution cannot stop halfway and I am hoping that you will persevere until the final victory.”

The 42-year-old leader of the Civil Contract party said he would meet with the acting head of government, Karen Karapetyan, on Wednesday to discuss the transfer of power.

Pashinyan — who was hurt in the protests last week and sported a bandaged hand — said parliament would have to elect a new prime minister ‘within a week’ and new parliamentary elections were also in the cards.

Earlier in the day the 63-year-old Sarkisian — who previously refused to step down — stunned the country by saying he was in the wrong and resigning.

“I am leaving the post of the country’s leader,” Sarkisian was quoted as saying by his office.

“Nikol Pashinyan was right,” he said. “I was wrong.”

Sarkisian implied that there were several ways to resolve the crisis and that he could have used force to break up protests but chose not to.

“This is not in my nature,” he added.

Sarkisian quit after a number of serving and former soldiers joined the protests.

His resignation came as a major surprise, with analysts saying just last week that the opposition did not have enough resources to force the veteran leader to quit.

Armenians cheered Sarkisian’s departure, dancing, hugging each other and setting off fireworks.

“The people won!” shouted supporters of Pashinyan as some waved national flags and others tooted car horns, on the 11th day of demonstrations.

Spontaneous street parties broke out as many flocked to stores to buy wine and raise a toast to the country’s future. — AFP