YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Opposition supporters in Armenia on Tuesday ramped up pressure on the prime minister to resign over his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan, setting up a protest tent camp on the capital’s main square.
Opposition politicians and their supporters have been demanding that Nikol Pashinyan step down over the Nov. 10 peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas. The Russia-brokered agreement ended 44 days of fierce fighting in which the Azerbaijani army routed Armenian forces.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators swarmed government buildings in Yerevan, chanting “Nikol, go away!” Several hours into the rally, opposition supporters erected tents on Yerevan’s main square.
Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a leading member of the opposition Dashnaktsutyun party, said protesters will stay on the square until Pashinyan resigns. “Tomorrow we will take even more resolute action,” he said.
In several other parts of Armenia, local officials have joined the call for Pashinyan to resign and protesters were reported to have blocked several major roads.
On Monday, Pashinyan was forced to cut short his trip to the southern Syunik province after a local mayor urged residents to deny entrance to his motorcade. Police arrested the mayor of Goris, but a court in Yerevan ruled Tuesday to release him from custody.
As protests spread, hundreds of lawyers joined the demonstrations in Yerevan on Tuesday to push for Pashinyan’s resignation.
The opposition also called on Pashinyan’s My Step coalition, which currently has the majority of seats in the parliament, to sit down for talks on Tuesday — a demand it ignored.
Opposition parties initiated a parliament session Wednesday to push for the lifting of martial law, charging that the government has used the measure to keep a lid on protests.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That war left Nagorno-Karabakh itself and substantial surrounding territory in Armenian hands.
Hostilities flared up in late September and the Azerbaijani military pushed deep into Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas in six weeks of fighting involving heavy artillery and drones that left more than 5,600 people dead on both sides.
The Russian-brokered peace agreement obliged Armenian forces to surrender large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and hand over the territories around the separatist region they had controlled for more than a quarter-century.
The peace deal was hailed in Azerbaijan as a major triumph, but sparked outrage and mass protests in Armenia where thousands repeatedly took to the streets. Pashinyan has defended the deal as a painful but necessary move that prevented Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Associated Press writer Daria Litvinova and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.