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Armenia Protest Leader Pashinyan Elected As Prime Minister

Newly elected prime minister Nikol Pashinian in the Republic Square, May 8, 2018
YEREVAN, May 8 (Reuters) -

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian was elected as Armenia's new prime minister on Tuesday, capping a peaceful revolution driven by weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism in the ex-Soviet republic.

Moscow, which has a military base in Armenia, is wary of an uncontrolled change of power which would pull the country out of its orbit, but Pashinian has offered assurances that he will not break with the Kremlin.

The election of Pashinian, a former newspaper editor who spent time in prison for fomenting unrest, marks a rupture with the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.

He spearheaded a protest movement that first forced veteran leader Serzh Sarksian to step down as prime minister and then pressured the ruling party to abandon attempts to block his election as prime minister, the country's most powerful post.

In a vote in parliament on Tuesday, 59 lawmakers backed Pashinyan's candidacy, including some from the ruling Republican Party, with 42 voting against.

In a vote last week, the Republican Party blocked Pashinian, but it said on Tuesday it had decided to get behind him for the sake of unity and the good of the nation.

A central square in the capital, where Pashinian's supporters gathered to watch the voting on huge television screens, erupted into joy when the result was shown.

The tens of thousands of people in Republic Square shouted "Nikol!" and white doves were released into the air. People hugged and kissed each other.

"I'm the happiest person in the world," said Shogik, a 17-year-old Pashinian supporter.

Armenia is a country of about three million people nestling in mountains between Turkey and Iran.

Pashinian's protest movement was sparked when Sarksian, barred by the constitution from seeking another term as president, became prime minister instead. Many Armenians saw that as a cynical ploy by Sarskian to extend his hold on power.

The protests led by Pashinian, wearing his trademark camouflage T-shirt and military-style cap, channeled a sense among many Armenians that corruption and cronyism was rife in the ruling elite.