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Armenian opposition forces on Tuesday pledged to stage street protests in a bid to scuttle President Serzh Sarkisian’s apparent plans to stay in power after completing his second and final presidential term on April 9.

Sarkisian made clear on Monday that he stands ready to become prime minister later in April despite promising in 2014 to step aside in case of Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. He cited the increased risk of renewed fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and other security challenges facing the country. Opposition leaders were quick to accuse him of reneging on his pledge.

“It was not a justification befitting a statesman. It smacked of petty fraud,” said Ararat Mirzoyan, a senior member of Civil Contract, a major opposition party represented in the Armenian parliament.

Top representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) defended, however, the outgoing president’s intention to extend his rule. Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief HHK spokesman, claimed that political “realities” in the country have changed in the past four years.

“[Sarkisian] is the kind of statesman who has always placed the interests of the state above his personal ambitions,” claimed Sharmazanov.

Another senior HHK figure, Gagik Melikian, said Sarkisian had only promised that he will “not aspire” to the post of prime minister in case of Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government. Melikian also insisted that he is “irreplaceable” as the Armenian army’s commander-in-chief.

Mirzoyan dismissed these explanations as “utter nonsense.” Sarkisian’s presidency has been a gross failure, he charged.

Civil Contract is one of the three opposition parties making up the Yelk alliance, which finished third in last year’s parliamentary elections. It has been pushing for street protests against Sarkisian’s continued rule. The two other Yelk parties oppose such a campaign, saying that it is unlikely to succeed.

The leaders of the three parties failed to bridge their differences at a meeting on Monday, leading Civil Contract to declare that it will separately launch a “political movement against Serzh Sarkisian’s third term in office.” It pledged to publicize a plan of concrete actions on March 31.

Armenia - Leaders and supporters of the opposition Yelk alliance hold an anti-government demonstration in Yerevan, 19Jan2018.
Armenia - Leaders and supporters of the opposition Yelk alliance hold an anti-government demonstration in Yerevan, 19Jan2018.

The Civil Contract leader, Nikol Pashinian, indicated on Tuesday that his party is planning a series of demonstrations in Yerevan next month. Pashinian did not deny that it will hold nonstop street protests immediately after Sarkisian resigns as president on April 9. Armenia’s HHK-controlled parliament is expected to vote for a new prime minister on April 17.

Also campaigning against Sarkisian’s “reproduction” is the For the Armenian State coalition of more radical opposition groups and activists, including Raffi Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun party. The grouping already rallied several hundred supporters in Yerevan earlier this month. Its next rally is scheduled for Friday.

Another anti-Sarkisian gathering will be held on Saturday by a group of non-partisan activists highly critical of the Armenian government. “Our main slogan will be ‘Reject Serzh,” one of them, Armen Grigorian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Grigorian said he and his associates are ready to join forces with the opposition forces.

Zharangutyun’s chairman, Armen Martirosian, said that such a consolidation is critical for forcing Sarkisian out of power. “Or else, [the separate campaigns] will facilitate the regime’s reproduction,” he said.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Pashinian said his party will be ready to team up with For the Armenian State only if the latter officially renounces violent methods of political struggle. “We will not respond to violence with violence,” he stressed.

Pashinian seemed to allude to the Zharangutyun-led grouping’s strong support for opposition gunmen that seized a Yerevan police station in a July 2016 attack that left three police officers dead.

Meanwhile, another major opposition force, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, confirmed that it will steer clear of anti-Sarkisian protests this time around. The HAK’s deputy chairman, Levon Zurabian, said the Armenian opposition missed its chance when it failed to scuttle Sarkisian’s 2015 constitutional reform and the HHK’s disputed victory in the April 2017 elections.

Zurabian again hit out at Civil Contract, saying that Pashinian’s party refused to join the HAK in campaigning against the controversial constitutional changes that paved the way for Sarkisian’s continued rule. “At any rate, I wish the fake opposition success in this struggle, even if I don’t believe in their success,” he added.

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