YEREVAN – Armenian opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian has rejected calls for dialogue with the government and called on Serzh Sarkisian to resign as prime minister.
“It’s too late now for dialogue…but it does not mean that we are not ready to have any discussion,” Pashinian told thousands of protesters during a rally on April 20 in central Yerevan.
“We, of course, are ready to discuss the terms [dates] of Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and certain conditions in that regard,” Pashinian said, adding that the opposition doesn’t “want vendettas and revenge.”
“If Serzh Sarkisian resigns as soon as possible, it will only be beneficial for himself and for the Republic of Armenia,” he said.
Pashinian’s call came during the eighth consecutive day of protests in the Armenian capital and elsewhere in the Caucasus nation against the election of former president Sarkisian as prime minister.
The demonstrators oppose a restructuring of the country’s governing system that has enabled Sarkisian to stay in power after his 10-year stint as president ended two weeks ago.
More than 180 people were detained in the capital on April 20, authorities said, as police tried to stop opposition supporters from blocking streets and paralyzing the capital.
Rallies continued in the evening with thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Yerevan’s central Republic Square.
PHOTO GALLERY: Eighth Day Of Armenia Protests by Amos Chapple (click to view)
Earlier, opposition lawmaker Ararat Mirzoyan told the gathering that government officials have been offering dialogue with the opposition in recent days but that the protesters would not negotiate on their demands.
“We are ready to have dialogue with them only on one issue: the capitulation of Serzh Sarkisian and the [ruling] Republican Party of Armenia,” he said.
During the day, Pashinian marched through downtown Yerevan in a crowd of demonstrators, while other protesters gathered at several sites.
Dozens of Yerevan streets and several major roads connecting regional cities to the capital have been blocked by crowds of protesters. In some cases, police abandoned the streets and protesters were regulating traffic themselves.
Truck drivers also joined the protesters, blocking three intersections with their vehicles.
Protesters also rallied in Armenia's second-largest city, Gyumri, where they attempted to block a highway leading to Yerevan, and in Vanadzor, the third-largest city in the country of about 3 million people.
Police warned in a statement that they would “resort to adequate measures, up to using special means” if needed.
The number of those detained grew steadily throughout the day, according to figures released periodically by the national police.
Video footage showed men in plainclothes shoving protesters into unmarked cars. It was unclear whether they were police officers and whether those they apprehended were counted among those officially detained.
In an interview with Current Time TV, Pashinian rejected the accusation that protesters were committing offenses against public order.
"This is a completely peaceful [protest], but there is a new element to it," Pashinian told Current Time, a project of RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, as he marched in a crowd.
"We are calling on the police not to protect Serzh Sarkisian, because they are not Serzh Sarkisian’s police, but the police of the Republic of Armenia and its people," he said.
Sarkisian wants to "see Armenia either through barbed wire or through the slots in riot shields," Pashinian said, suggesting that the longtime leader is hiding behind the police.
Mikayel Ghukasian, a 23-year-old student from Yerevan State University, told RFE/RL that the Armenian “people want changes.”
“People come here because they are unhappy about the situation in the country, unhappy about the developments in the country over the past 10 years, and do not want the country to continue in the same direction,” he said.
“People want changes and they want the government to hear their voice and make good on its promises,” Ghukasian added.
Another protester, Mikayel Nazarian, said that he has seen protesters with a wide range of social and political backgrounds.
“The uniqueness of [these protests] is that everyone is here – rightists, leftists, centrists. From anarchists to nationalists – all are here. This is a situation when a conservative society and a more progressive society or, putting it more bluntly, traditionalists and LGBT community people can sit together in one place,” Nazarian said.
"This already means that there is a great change in this society."
Tirayr Muradian, a journalist reporting for the website of the Union of Informed Citizens, an NGO, was forcefully removed from the scene of a protest on a highway outside Yerevan where he said he was covering the event.
Armenian authorities have repeatedly warned journalists to stay “at a reasonable distance” from the sites where police are “carrying out their lawful actions.”
Men in plainclothes policemen shoved Muradian in a car and drove him away from the protest site before letting him go.
A day earlier, Muradian was beaten up by unknown men and hospitalized with head injuries while covering the protests near the government building, despite identifying himself as a journalist.
President Armen Sarkisian -- who is not related to Serzh Sarkisian -- on April 19 called for dialogue after a full day of scuffles between protesters and riot police who detained some 120 demonstrators in downtown Yerevan.
"I'm confident that the only solution is a dialogue and mutual respect," Armen Sarkisian said in a statement after the demonstrations apparently prompted Serzh Sarkisian to delay the start of his first cabinet meeting by a few hours.
"As a leader of the country, I'm calling on the sides to hold a dialogue in order to find the best solution in the current situation," the president said.
The United States has urged both the authorities and protesters to exercise restraint and avoid violence, and Russia has said that laws should not be broken.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) urged the Armenian authorities to protect and ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country.
Serzh Sarkisian stepped down as president when Armen Sarkisian -- his handpicked successor -- was sworn in on April 9 after being elected by parliament. On April 17, parliament elected Serzh Sarkisan as prime minister -- a post that is more powerful than the presidency following a constitutional referendum he backed in 2015.