Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian urged supporters to block even more streets of Yerevan on Tuesday morning to disrupt a session of the Armenian parliament which is due to allow former President Serzh Sarkisian to remain in power.
Pashinian specifically called for a “blockade” of the parliament building. He said all roads leading to the National Assembly should be blocked by protesters in order to prevent it from installing Sarkisian as Armenia’s prime minister.
“We have to close those streets with anything we can get hold of,” he told thousands of supporters that again gathered in the city’s France Square in the evening. “We need the whole country to take to the streets tomorrow,” he said.
“We must make sure that that ill-fated session doesn’t happen tomorrow,” added the 42-year-old leader of the opposition Civil Contract party.
Pashinian spoke just three hours after scores of protesters clashed with riot police while trying to approach the parliament. The police used batons and stun grenades to push back the crowd led by him.
The protesters marched towards the parliament building after managing to shut down traffic in most of the city center. Pashinian said the unprecedented disruption marked a “breakthrough” in Civil Contract’s campaign against Sarkisian’s continued rule which he claims would lead to Armenia’s “Azerbaijanization,” a reference to the long authoritarian rule of Azerbaijan’s current and former presidents.
Pashinian said the closure of the streets leading to the parliament should start already before midnight.
Leaders of the pro-government majority in the parliament said earlier in the day that the continuing protests cannot deter lawmakers from meeting the following morning and naming Sarkisian prime minister. They insisted that Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party has a popular mandate to pick the next premier because it won the last Armenian parliamentary elections held in April 2017.
Sarkisian completed his second and final presidential term on April 9. In 2015, he pushed through controversial constitutional changes that turned the country into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial head of state.
Pashinian made the appeal despite fresh police threats to forcibly end the anti-Sarkisian protests launched by him on Friday. For its part, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General announced that it has opened a criminal case under articles of the Criminal Code dealing with “mass disturbances.”