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Hundreds Block Highway To Armenian Airport As Pashinian Calls General Strike

Pashinian: 'The People Have Won'
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YEREVAN -- Hundreds of people blocked a major highway connecting Armenia's capital with its main airport early on May 2, in response to protest leader Nikol Pashinian's call for a general strike following the parliament's vote against his becoming prime minister.

Security forces were also deployed in the area of Zvartnots Airport.

Elsewhere in Yerevan, groups of students took to the streets again, some of them heading for university campuses and calling on all students to join the strike.

Pashinian, marching with a large group of people in Yerevan, used a bullhorn to call on his supporters to allow passage for all Defense Ministry and emergency vehicles. He also called on his supporters not to block the army's supply routes or the two strategic highways connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.

On May 1, lawmakers voted against Pashinian as the country's next prime minister in a narrow 55-to-45 vote, prompting him to call on supporters to stage a general strike starting on May 2.

The vote in a special session of parliament on May 1 came shortly after Vahram Baghdasarian, the leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), announced that his party would vote against Pashinian.

WATCH: Live stream from Yerevan via RFE/RL's Armenian Service

Under Armenia's constitution, the failure of parliament to confirm a prime minister triggers a second vote by the legislature, which has been scheduled for May 8.

Baghdasarian and Pashinian both indicated that they would take part in negotiations before that vote.

In response to the May 1 vote in parliament, Pashinian called on citizens across the country to join in a general strike beginning at 8:15 a.m. on May 2 to back the opposition's demand that he be appointed as the next prime minister.

Crowds Gather At Armenian Parliament
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Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters gathered at Republic Square in central Yerevan after the legislature's vote, Pashinian said all workers should stop going to their jobs and all students should stop attending their classes.

He also called for protesters to continue "nonviolent, peaceful acts of civil disobedience," including the blocking of all roads and highways in the country and the closure of railroads and airports.

In remarks in the legislature, Pashinian said the Republican Party's parliamentary faction had "destroyed itself irreversibly" by "announcing war against its own people" and refusing to support his candidacy.

If parliament on May 8 fails again to confirm a prime minister, the legislature would automatically be dissolved and early general elections would be scheduled, with the Republican-led acting government in charge of the electoral process.

Pashinian insists that only an interim government led by a "people's candidate" -- himself -- can organize and conduct parliamentary elections that are free, fair, and transparent.

Pashinian led more than two weeks of antigovernment protests that forced Serzh Sarkisian to step down as prime minister -- a position which he switched to after he completed the two five-year mandates as president allowed by the constitution.

Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian block a street in central Yerevan on May 2.
Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian block a street in central Yerevan on May 2.

The parliament, controlled by Sarkizian's Republicans, elected him as prime minister in April in a move that came after legal changes that weakened the presidency's power while bolstering the prime minister's.

Sarkisian's move brought into the streets thousands of Armenians, angry that the new system would have allowed the pro-Moscow Sarkisian to remain the former Soviet republic’s leader indefinitely.

They also accused Sarkisian and his Republican Party of widespread corruption and failing to raise living standards.

The May 1 vote in parliament was assailed by angry shouts and waving fists from tens of thousands of people who stood in central Yerevan's Republic Square throughout the day watching the parliamentary proceedings on a large-screen television.

Pashinian, a 42-year-old opposition lawmaker, was the only candidate in the May 1 vote. He secured the support of all opposition factions in the 105-seat parliament, but the Republican Party controls a majority of 58 seats.

Speaking to lawmakers ahead of the vote, Pashinian said "the Republican Party's attempts at thwarting this ballot will start a political tsunami."

Pashinian Calls For General Strike In Armenia
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In the run-up to the vote, the Republican Party of Armenia had said it would not hinder the election of Pashinian if the other factions in parliament support his candidacy.

But parliamentary vice speaker and Republican Party spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said on May 1 that he was not pleased with what he heard in a meeting with Pashinian a day earlier.

"Given the meeting we had yesterday, I am sure Mr. Pashinian cannot be the prime minister," Sharmazanov told reporters on May 1. He did not elaborate.

Pashinian’s Yelk faction has nine seats in the 105-seat parliament. The Tsarukian Alliance has 31 seats and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has seven. But to be elected, Pashinian needed at least 53 votes.

Pashinian said that he sees fresh parliamentary elections as the way forward once a new government is formed.

A woman walks with her suitcase past protesters blocking the road to the airport in Yerevan on May 2.
A woman walks with her suitcase past protesters blocking the road to the airport in Yerevan on May 2.

"It would be necessary to hold an early parliamentary election after an interim government is formed. Mechanisms of the early election should be devised as soon as possible. This election is unavoidable. It would be the final stage of the people's victory," he said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, in a May 1 statement, called on all political forces to engage in "comprehensive dialogue ahead of the second round of voting on May 8.

"It remains crucial that all parties involved, including the law enforcement agencies and those exercising their right of freedom of assembly and expression, avoid confrontation and show restraint and responsibility, as has been the case in recent days," Mohgerini's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said.

"The European Union reiterates its support to Armenia in its efforts to build a prosperous and democratic society."

Armenia and the EU called off an Association Agreement in 2013, but a revised Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was announced in February 2017.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, Interfax, and TASS