President Armen Sarkissian met with opposition leader Nikol Pashinian on Saturday during a surprise visit to Yerevan’s Republic Square where tens of thousands of people continued to demand Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
Sarkissian was greeted with “President, reject Serzh!” and “Nikol!” chants as he entered the sprawling square hours after renewing his calls for a dialogue between the government and Pashinian. The two men spoke for 15 or so minutes there. Journalist were not allowed to approach them during the conversation.
The recently elected president, who has largely ceremonial powers, could only be heard proposing to Pashinian crisis talks at a hotel located on the square. As he left the square he answered only one of the questions shouted by reports. Asked by an RFE/RL correspondent whether such talks will be held, he said: “I hope so.”
Sarkissian expressed serious concern at the intensifying political crisis in the country earlier in the day. In a statement, he said both the Pashinian-led protesters and the authorities must show “extreme restraint.”
“It is imperative to defuse the tensions,” Sarkissian said, adding that he is going to meet Pashinian and to offer to host a “dialogue of political forces.”
Pashinian commented on their conversation when he addressed the large crowd later in the evening. He said he is open to negotiating with Serzh Sarkisian in a “neutral venue” but reiterated that he would only discuss “the terms” of the prime minister’s resignation.
“I made clear that the sole theme of such negotiations would be Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and a smooth transfer of power,” said the leader of the opposition Civil Contract party. “No other issue can be on our agenda.”
Pashinian went on to urge even more Armenians to demonstrate across the country on Sunday “so that our positions are as strong as possible in this negotiation process.” Speaking to reporters after the speech, he said it is not yet clear when the talks could start.
According to the Tert.am news service, President Sarkissian met with the prime minister after his brief talk with Pashinian. Earlier in the day, the premier called on the protest leader to “immediately” start a dialogue with the government.
Pashinian first announced his conditions for the dialogue the previous night. He said Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation must be followed by fresh parliamentary elections.
The spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, criticized Pashinian’s stance as “emotional and unconstructive” on Saturday. “As regards the resignation demand, I am once again stating that Armenia’s prime minister was elected in accordance with Armenia’s constitution, by a free expression of the will of Armenia’s free and proud parliamentarians,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Sharmazanov urged Pashinian to stop setting “ultimatums.”