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Pashinian Urges End To Protests, Blockades; Warns Gov't Not To Deploy Troops

Students Block Streets In Armenian Capital
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YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian has called large-scale demonstrations and strike actions across the country "unprecedented" in their turnout and said that "very important" statements will be made at a rally in the capital, Yerevan, later on May 2.

Pashinian said in a live-streamed video on Facebook that "there is virtually no open road" in Yerevan and other cities after many thousands of people joined his call for a general strike and civil disobedience following a parliament vote that denied him the prime minister's post.

He called for an end to the blockades of major highways and other thoroughfares by 5 p.m. Yerevan time (1300 GMT/UTC) and urged supporters to converge on the central Republic Square at 7 p.m. (1500 GMT/UTC).

Pashinian's bid to become prime minster after leading large protests that pushed longtime leader Serzh Sarkisan from the post in late April was blocked by the ruling Republican Party (HHK) in the May 1 vote, setting the stage for further turmoil.

He also warned the government on May 2 not to deploy troops to resolve the crisis.

As Pashinian marched again with supporters in Yerevan, President Armen Sarkisian called for talks to be held to resolve the crisis ahead of a second parliamentary to be held on May 8.

"I deeply regret that the political crisis continues, despite the fact that everyone is talking about how dangerous it is for the future of the country," Armen Sarkisian -- who is not related to Serzh Sarkisian -- said in a statement.

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

His calls were echoed by acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian.

"I am appealing to all political forces to demonstrate [good] will, determination, and flexibility and sit at the [negotiating] table," Karapetian said in a statement. "We all realize that we need quick, civilized, and workable solutions for overcoming the political crisis no matter how difficult that seems."

He added: "A prime minister can be elected only in the parliament by constitutional means. There exists no other solution, neither in theory nor in practice."

Karapetian and Pashinian were scheduled to meet twice last week but the talks did not take place because of Karapetian's rejection of preconditions set by the protest leader.

Earlier on May 2, hundreds of people blocked a major highway connecting the capital with the country's main airport, prompting some passengers to walk with their suitcases to make their flights.

Several other major highways -- including those leading to the Georgian and Iranian borders -- were also reportedly blocked.

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

He said the protests would continue until the government acknowledged the "people's victory."

Pashinian Says Victory 'Inevitable' For Armenian Protesters
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"My only power is my people. We are not going to give up," Pashinian, dressed in his trademark camouflage T-shirt and cap, told Reuters at a protest on May 2. "We will continue our strike and disobedience."

He said he had not yet decided whether to resubmit his candidacy for prime minister ahead of the May 8 vote, which was triggered under the constitution when lawmakers rejected Pashinian -- the only candidate -- in the initial vote.

"We will think and negotiate," Pashinian said, added that if parliament is dissolved before handing power to an interim government his movement could boycott new elections. "It will depend on the specific situation."

Under the constitution, if a prime minister is not elected in the second vote, parliament will be dissolved and new elections held with the HHK-led acting government in charge of the electoral process.

Amid the fresh protests on May 2, parliament failed to gain a quorum of 53 lawmakers to hold a session, as only 33 deputies registered.

Armenia's parliament did say it would convene for an extraordinary session on May 8 to elect a prime minister, parliament speaker Ara Babloian said on May 2.

"On May 8...the Armenian parliament will begin discussing the question of the election of a new prime minister," Babloian said in a statement.

Access to many subway stations in Yerevan was blocked and railway traffic was reportedly halted.

"The entire railway is not working," Vardan Aloian, a spokesman for the Southern Caucasus Railway, told the Russian news agency Interfax.

Security forces were visible in some places but there were no reports of them intervening in the demonstrations or blockages.

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

Yerevan Airport Blockade Sparks Road Rage
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Reports of protests and civil disobedience actions are coming in from other cities and towns across Armenia.

Students and schoolchildren in Masis, a town in Armenia’s Ararat Province not far from Yerevan, joined the general strike and were seen demonstrating in front of the city's town hall.

In Vanadzor -- Armenia’s third-largest city, some 110 kilometers to the north of the capital -- protesters blocked the buildings of the mayor’s office and the regional governor's office.

Residents of the town of Armavir, including striking winery workers, gathered in front of the regional governor’s office and demand that he join the "popular movement" or resign.

Access to many subway stations in Yerevan was blocked, and railway traffic was reportedly halted.
Access to many subway stations in Yerevan was blocked, and railway traffic was reportedly halted.

There are also reports of workers at many companies joining the call for a general strike.

Pashinian called for a general strike after lawmakers blocked his bid to become prime minister in the May 1 balloting, voting 56-to-45 against him and leaving him short of the majority needed for election by the 105-seat National Assembly. Pashinian had support from his Yelk alliance and other opposition parties, but the HHK announced shortly before the ballot that it would vote against him.

Speaking to tens of thousands of supporters gathered on Republic Square in central Yerevan after the vote, Pashinian said the HHK's parliamentary faction had "destroyed itself irreversibly" by "announcing war against its own people" and refusing to support his candidacy.

He said all workers should stop going to their jobs and all students should stop attending their classes beginning on May 2. He also called for protesters to continue "nonviolent, peaceful acts of civil disobedience" including blocking all roads and highways and seeking to shut down railways and airports.

Pashinian has opposed the idea of holding new parliamentary elections with the HHK in power, saying that only an interim government led by a "people's candidate" -- himself -- can organize and conduct balloting that is free, fair, and transparent.

The May 1 vote followed more than two weeks of antigovernment protests that prompted Serzh Sarkisian to step down as prime minister -- a position he switched to after completing the two five-year presidential terms allowed by the constitution.

General Strike Hits Armenia's Second-Largest City
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The parliament, controlled by Sarkizian's HHK, elected him as prime minister on April 17 in a move that came after legal changes that weakened the presidency's power while bolstering the prime minister's.

Sarkisian's move brought thousands of Armenians into the streets to protest what Pashinian and supporters say was a duplicitous bid to cling to power -- and potentially rule for life -- after a decade as president.

Critics also accuse Sarkisian and the HHK of widespread corruption and failing to raise living standards in Armenia, which has a population of about 3 million and is one of the poorest former Soviet republics, and of being too close to Russia.

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.

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

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian is embraced by a supporter as he takes part in a rally in Yerevan on May 2.
Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian is embraced by a supporter as he takes part in a rally in Yerevan on May 2.

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.

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."

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.

With Yerevan under pressure from Moscow to avoid tightening ties with the EU, Armenia and the EU called off plans to sign a landmark Association Agreement in 2013. But they eventually bolstered relations by signing a deal called a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement in November 2017.

Armenia is closely aligned with Russia, which has a large military base in the city of Gyumri. The former Soviet republic is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), two regional groupings dominated by Moscow.

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