Amid protests, Armenia’s ex-president becomes prime minister

April 17, 2018
A policeman looks through a door window reflecting opposition demonstrators marching to protest the former president's shift into the prime minister's seat in Yerevan, Armenia, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. Armenia's former president shifted into the prime minister's seat Tuesday as tens of thousands opposition supporters rallied in the capital to protest the move, which they saw as a power grab. (Narek Aleksanyan, PAN Photo via AP)

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia’s former president shifted into the prime minister’s seat Tuesday as about 40,000 protesters rallied in the capital to oppose the move, which they saw as a power grab.

Supporters of opposition parties in Armenia have blocked government buildings and streets in the capital since Friday, but the demonstrations did not deter lawmakers from voting 77-17 to confirm ex-President Serzh Sargsyan as the new prime minister.

Sargsyan served as Armenia’s president from 2008 until stepping down because of term limits. Under a new political system, he now takes a dominant role as prime minister, and the new president plays a mostly ceremonial role.

Protesters see the government change as an attempt to extend Sargsyan’s rule in the former Soviet nation. His critics vowed to block Tuesday’s parliament session to keep him from being confirmed, but police cordoned off the area hours before the vote.

The protesters’ leader, opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian, declared what he called a “velvet revolution,” urging demonstrators to keep besieging government ministries, the prosecutor’s office, the Central Bank and other official buildings. He also called for spreading protests across Armenia.

Police didn’t intervene with the protest during the day, but some clashes erupted later Tuesday. Police said they detained several people who hurled stones at police vehicles.

Police also moved to clear some of the barricades blocking key roadways, leading to some clashes with protesters.

A day earlier, police used tear gas and stun grenades when protesters tried to break through police cordons. Health officials said 46 people, including six police officers, were injured Monday.

Police also detained three demonstrators involved in the brief seizure of the public radio headquarters on Saturday.

Armen Sarkisian, who took over as president from Sargsyan earlier this month, issued a statement Tuesday, warning protesters against violence and unlawful actions.

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