Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Wednesday again demanded an immediate end to road closures and other protests going on in Armenia, saying that they smack of “sabotage” against his newly formed government.
Pashinian already made a similar appeal on May 17 as groups of citizens blocked streets and highways across the country and demonstrated outside government buildings in Yerevan. Virtually all of those protests stopped as a result.
In particular, a major Yerevan street was unblocked by dozens of other people demanding the release of jailed members of a radical opposition group that launched a deadly attack on a police station in 2016. But they continued to picket a court building as well as prosecutors’ headquarters in the Armenian capital on a virtually daily basis.
Also, a group of residents of the southeastern Vayots Dzor province blocked for the fourth consecutive day on Wednesday all roads leading to a massive gold mine which is being built by a British-American company, Lydian International, at the Amulsar deposit. They demanded a permanent halt to all construction and mining operations there. Hundreds of other people working for Lydian and its Armenian contractors were thus unable to go to work.
“Dear compatriots, I am again asking, urging and demanding that you stop all civil disobedience actions without any exception and work with the government for solving issues preoccupying you,” Pashinian wrote in a Facebook post.
“Taking civil disobedience actions against a government enjoying the people’s trust means taking civil disobedience actions against yourself or carrying out acts of sabotage against the government enjoying the people’s trust,” he said. He warned that failure to heed his appeal would “receive an evaluation by the people.”
Pashinian also aired a live video message on Facebook late on Tuesday in an apparent response to the tense situation around the Amulsar mining site. He announced that he will order government inspections of “all metal mines” in the country to verify and, if necessary, ensure their compliance with environment protection norms and their tax obligations.
Pashinian made clear at the same time that his government favors an “explicitly balanced approach” to the domestic mining sector which generates a considerable part of Armenia’s export revenue. “We cannot say that we are going to shut down the Armenian mining industry,” he stressed.
“All our actions must be professional and strictly comply with the law so that there are no negative consequences for Armenia in international bodies and also in relation to this positive background for the investment climate,” stressed the premier.
Lydian started building its gold mining and smelting facilities at Amulsar 2016. It has since hired more than 1,000 Armenian workers for the construction which it says will cost $370 million in investments. Work on the mine is due to be completed before the end of this year. Armenia’s gold exports should increase sharply as a result.
Armenian environment protection groups are opposed to the Amulsar project. Lydian maintains that it will use advanced technology and prevent any damage to the local ecosystem.
The mining project is strongly supported by the U.S. and British governments. The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, argued last year year that it has been deemed “fully compliant” with environment protection standards set by the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).