(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
Armenia Thrown into More Turmoil as Soldiers Join Protests
Images of hundreds of men wearing military uniforms marching with protesters had earlier appeared on a live stream of the demonstrations being broadcast on the Internet.
The Defense Ministry condemned the soldiers who took part in the illegal protests, vowing that “harsh legal measures” will be taken against them.
Earlier opposition supporters staged more protests in the capital, a day after protest leader and lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan was detained by authorities.
On the eleventh day of the protests, hundreds of students, some medical students in white coats, marched arm-in-arm through the streets, holding Armenian flags.
Young men in small groups briefly blocked roads and shouted slogans such as “Join us!” and “Victory” and Pashinyan’s name as drivers beeped their horns in support.
The demonstrations, which drew tens of thousands in Yerevan over the weekend, are protesting the rule of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the country’s former president.
The whereabouts of Pashinyan, the leader of the Civil Contract Party, were unclear after he was detained. As a lawmaker, Pashinyan is protected by parliamentary immunity and cannot be arrested without the approval of fellow MPs.
His lawyer Rustam Badasyan wrote on Facebook: “There is no answer to the question where he is.”
The speaker of the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, met Pashinyan and the other detained politicians overnight, however, the parliament’s spokesman told AFP, without giving details.
The speaker Ara Babloyan was quoted as saying that he urged Pashinyan and the others “to take part in real talks.”
Pashinyan and two other opposition politicians “were detained as they were committing socially dangerous acts”, the prosecutor general’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
Sarkisian earlier on Sunday stormed out of tense televised talks with Pashinyan, accusing him of “blackmail.”
“I am telling you: you have no understanding of the situation in the country. The situation is different to the one you knew 15-20 days ago,” he told Sarkisian.
“The situation in Armenia has changed, you don’t have the power of which you are told. In Armenia, the power has passed to the people,” he said.
Pashinyan last week announced the “start of a peaceful velvet revolution” in the landlocked country of 2.9 million people.
Nearly 200 people were detained at protest rallies held across Yerevan on Sunday, while on Monday the Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said that 26 had been detained on suspicion of “hooliganism” and use of violence against police.
In a statement, the European Union’s foreign policy arm called for more dialogue and a peaceful resolution.
“All those who have been detained while exercising their fundamental right of assembly in accordance with the law must be released immediately,” it said.
“It is of utmost importance that all parties involved show restraint and act responsibly.”
Sarkisian was elected prime minister by lawmakers last week under a new parliamentary system of government that transfers power from the presidency to the premier, while the president becomes largely a ceremonial role.
Sarkisian, a shrewd former military officer, was first elected as president of the impoverished Moscow-allied country in 2008.
After that poll, 10 people died in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.
He was reelected in 2013, with his second and final term ending April 9.
The protests, though peaceful so far, threaten to destabilize a key Russian ally in a volatile region riven by a long low level conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and would, if successful, be a rare example of people power delivering reform in the former Soviet Union.
Critics accuse Sarkisian of ruling the South Caucasus nation for too long, of being too close to Russia which has military bases inside Armenia, and of doing too little to root out corruption.
Sarkisian says his country needs him and that his party enjoys large-scale popular support.