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Pashinian Vows More Protests After Acting PM Rejects Talks

Pashinian Demands 'Really Free' Elections In Armenia
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WATCH: Pashinian Demands 'Really Free' Elections In Armenia

YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian has vowed to continue antigovernment protests after acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian refused to meet with him.

Pashinian called for a large demonstration on May 1, when parliament is set to vote on a new prime minister.

Pashinian had proposed that he and Karapetian meet at the Marriott Armenia Hotel in Yerevan at noon on April 27 to discuss only one issue -- a peaceful transfer of power -- and insisted that the talks should be held in the presence of the media and broadcast live.

But a spokesman for Karapetian said, "The acting prime minister believes that negotiations where one side exclusively dictates the agenda, and the other cannot present its agenda, cannot be considered negotiations."

"Besides, Karen Karapetian still believes that holding talks in front of the media already suggests that the goal of the talks is not to achieve any results," spokesman Aram Araratian said in a Facebook post.

Karapetian's refusal to meet with Pashinian came after the acting prime minister spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on April 26. Russia is Armenia's closest ally and economic partner.

WATCH: Live broadcast from Yerevan by RFE/RL's Armenian Service

"The opposition will continue demonstrations," Pashinian told the media after Karapetian failed to show up for the meeting. "Hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets on May 1, when the new prime minister will be elected," Pashinian said.

The opposition leader also said that he was in favor of early elections, but only if the polls could really be free and democratic.

"We agree with early elections, but we should have a guarantee that this election will be really free, and really transparent, and really democratic, because otherwise, it won't mean anything. [On the contrary], that election will only deepen the political crisis. We need to solve the political crisis, not to deepen [it]," Pashinian said.

On April 26, Pashinian said he was the only appropriate candidate for prime minister.

He told a rally of supporters gathered on Yerevan's central Republic Square that "I either will be elected prime minister through the people, by their demand, and with their support, or no prime minister at all will be elected in the Republic of Armenia."

"There can be no compromise with the corrupt and antinational system," he added.

The parliament said it would elect the next prime minister on May 1 following the resignation of Serzh Sarkisian this week in the face of protests prompted by his shifting to the newly powerful post of prime minister after a decade as president, in what was perceived as an attempt to cling to power after reaching the limit of two straight presidential terms.

Pashinian, who has rejected any compromise with the Sarkisian's ruling Republican Party (HHK), earlier on April 27 met with President Armen Sarkisian -- who is not related to Serzh Sarkisian -- and separately, with two members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the party that quit the ruling coalition earlier this week and has seven mandates in parliament.

Meanwhile, Russia, Armenia's main ally and economic partner, has called for a quick resolution of the crisis -- one that would reflect the outcome of last year's parliamentary elections won by Sarkisian's HHK.

Speaker Ara Babloian on April 26 announced the special session of parliament as the HHK came under growing pressure to hand over power to Pashinian as the country struggles through its biggest political crisis in years.

In an interview with RFE/RL, President Sarkisian did not offer support to any candidate, but said recent actions showed the country is on the road to becoming a "new Armenia" with a "huge spectrum of opinions."

"Armenia today is not like the country we had even a couple of weeks ago," he also said.

RFE/RL Interview: Armenian President Sees Progress Toward 'Real Democratic State'
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Pashinian told a rally of supporters gathered on Yerevan's central Republic Square that "I either will be elected prime minister through the people, by their demand, and with their support, or no prime minister at all will be elected in the republic of Armenia."

"There can be no compromise with the corrupt and antinational system," he added.

Despite Serzh Sarkisian's resignation on April 23 and the departure of the junior partner from the HHK's governing coalition two days later, the HHK still controls a majority with 58 lawmakers in the 105-seat parliament.

It remains uncertain whether Pashinian would be able to garner the 53 votes needed to win the prime minister's post. He would need the support of all opposition deputies and at least six Republican Party lawmakers.

Pashinian spent April 26 meeting with other parliamentary factions in a bid to secure support for his candidacy, including a session with Gagik Tsarukian, leader of parliament's second-largest faction -- the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

The BHK has yet to officially confirm whether its deputies will vote to elect Pashinian, although it has told its members to support Pashinian's protest.

Tsarukian said his faction would formally announce its position after negotiations were completed.

Dashnaktsutyun said after leaving the governing coalition that the parliament should elect a prime minister who "enjoys the people's confidence."

Several Dashnaktsutyun lawmakers publicly expressed support for Pashinian and the street protests he has been leading for the past two weeks.

Three ministers from Dashnaktsutyun -- the acting ministers of education and science, environmental protection, and territorial governance -- resigned on April 26 along with two regional governors from Dashnaktsutyun.

WATCH: Pashinian leads a protest march through Yerevan

Pashinian Leads Protest March Again Through Yerevan
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While Russia has said it will not intervene in the standoff, a Kremlin statement late on April 26 said President Vladimir Putin in a phone call to Karapetian called for a quick solution to the political crisis that would reflect the outcome of last year's parliamentary elections won by the HHK.

"It was emphasized that the settlement of the crisis situation in Armenia must happen in the solely legal field, within the framework of the current constitution, and on the basis of the results of the legitimate parliamentary elections held in April 2017," the Kremlin said in a readout of the phone call.

Putin "stressed the importance of the election by the parliament of the republic's prime minister scheduled for May 1," it added.

Two key officials in the HHK -- acting Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and acting Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgian -- earlier met with officials in Moscow to discuss the implications of the political crisis in Yerevan.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Nalbandian met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The HHK has indicated it plans to replace Serzh Sarkisian as party chairman, but did not say who the new leader would be. It said the situation would be discussed during a meeting of party leaders on April 27.

The HHK also said it was ready to discuss "any issue" with Pashinian "without preconditions."

Supporters of Pashinian, who leads the opposition Civil Contract party, continued their street protests on April 26.

In a late rally on Republic Square, Pashinian insisted on "unconditional recognition" by the HHK and all other political parties and alliances in parliament of "the people's victory."

He vowed that no secret talks would take place and that "no deal can be struck behind the people's back."

"We expect that all parliamentary factions will recognize the people's victory unconditionally, without conditions, without preconditions," he told the crowd, saying there was "no other option."

In his interview with RFE/RL, Armen Sarkisian said that "the outcome of this debate...will be resolved at the parliament with the election of the new prime minster, later the new government. And maybe parliament will also vote to have new elections in the near future."

"What is happening in Armenia...after several years of demonstrations, is [that] now we are going toward a democratic process," Sarkisian also said, speaking in fluent English for the second half of the 30-minute interview.

"If we manage this properly, all the problems which were raised during the demonstrations will be resolved according to the constitution and inside the parliament," he added. "Then we all can be proud that we are on the real path to making Armenia a real democratic state."

Pashinian has insisted that the HHK has been responsible for vote-rigging in previous elections and should not be allowed to remain in power while early parliamentary elections are being organized.

‘‘Don't get me wrong," he said. "This is not about my election as prime minister, but about the elimination of the corrupt system."

He called for Armenia's current election laws to be reformed, saying they do not promote free, fair, or transparent elections.

Armen Sarkisian, in his interview with RFE/RL, speculated that the parliament could ''vote to change the election code" or other laws but was not more specific.

The catalyst for the recent protests was Sarkisian's shift to the newly powerful post of prime minister after a decade as president -- a move critics charged was a blatant bid to cling to power when he reached the limit of two straight presidential terms.