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Pashinian To Hold Rally In Vanadzor, After Vowing No 'Geopolitical Reversals'

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian holds a rally in Gyumri on April 27.
Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian holds a rally in Gyumri on April 27.

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian is scheduled to hold a large rally on April 28 in Armenia's third-largest city, Vanadzor, after promising no "geopolitical reversals" the previous day in front of thousands of supporters in Gyumri, the country's second-largest city and host to a large Russian military base.

Speaking late on April 27, he told the estimated crowd of 10,000 gathered on Gyumri's main square, "There is one road: choose me as the premier of Armenia, as the candidate of you, of the people."

The crowd responded enthusiastically, with many calling for him to be made prime minister in a parliamentary vote scheduled for May 1.

Pashinian said the cheering crowds who have gathered on the roadways as he and his entourage tour the country show he has won a "people's victory" and "this is a different Armenia" that will win the battle against "poverty and corruption."

Along the 120-kilometer route to Gyumri from the capital, Yerevan, Pashinian was greeted by thousands of supporters, making a two-hour drive twice as long as he stopped and greeted local residents, who hugged and kissed the former journalist turned lawmaker.

In Gyumri, a city that hosts a Russian military base with some 3,000 troops, Pashinian reiterated his position about maintaining good relations with Russia and not dramatically change Armenia's foreign policy.

"We have said and are saying that after we come to power there will be no geopolitical reversals," he said, vowing that he will keep Armenia in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) -- "not because we love this organization...but because it meets the national interests of the Republic of Armenia."

Pashinian said that under his stewardship, Armenia would work to make the CSTO "more effective and provide more serious guarantees" for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh than it has previously.

"Armenia will remain committed to all its international obligations," he said, including its partnership agreement with the European Union and its membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

"This does not mean that we consider that there are no things to improve in that cooperation with the EU and the EEU. And we should seek to make these relations better," he said.

Pashinian was one of seven Armenian lawmakers who voted against the ratification of the EEU treaty in December 2014. Last year, the Yelk opposition alliance that includes Pashinian's Civil Contract and two other opposition parties demanded Armenia's exit from the Russian-led union

Assuring followers that he will continue Armenia's longtime ties with Russia, Pashinian insisted that Russia will stay true to its stated position that it will not meddle in Armenia's internal affairs.

"We are no enemies to Russia," Pashinian told the crowds, adding that he wouldn't take Armenia "along the path of unwise [decisions] and adventures."

While Pashinian began a tour outside Yerevan that he said he will bring to Vanadzor on April 28, acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian worked to secure his premiership in the parliamentary vote next week in appearances in Yerevan.

Currently, Karapetian's party -- the Republican Party of ex-Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who was forced out of office by the street protests last week after a decade-long rule -- still holds a majority in parliament.

Pashinian's Yelk faction has only nine members in the 105-seat parliament. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has seven.

Meanwhile, businessman Gagik Tsarukian, leader of parliament’s second-largest faction -- the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), is expected to make a statement on April 28 on his Facebook page.

Karapetian, a former Gazprom manager, started out the day on April 27 rejecting Pashinian’s invitation to hold negotiations in front of television cameras in Yerevan to discuss a "peaceful transfer of power."

"Negotiations where one side exclusively dictates the agenda, and the other cannot present its agenda, cannot be considered negotiations," Karapetian spokesman Aram Araratian said in a Facebook post.

Araratian added that "holding talks in front of the media already suggests that the goal of the talks is not to achieve any results."

Pashinian said afterward that Karapetian’s refusal to talk suggested he was "not confident about his negotiating skills."

He said his supporters will continue their street demonstrations, and the crowds will only get larger as the parliamentary vote approaches.

"Hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets on May 1, when the new prime minister will be elected," he said. "I'm calling on the citizens of Armenia to go out to the streets from early morning on May 1 and to flood all streets and squares, including around the National Assembly."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters