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Serzh Sargsyan: Armenian PM resigns after days of protests

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Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan has resigned after days of large-scale street protests against him.

Opposition supporters accused Mr Sargsyan of clinging to power when he was appointed prime minister last Tuesday, soon after finishing two five-year terms as president.

“The street movement is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand,” he said in a statement.

It was not clear when his resignation would take effect.

The announcement came soon after opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was released from detention. Mr Pashinyan had been arrested on Sunday after televised talks with Mr Sargsyan collapsed.

As well as Mr Pashinyan, two other opposition politicians and some 200 demonstrators were held.

In his statement published on his website, Mr Sargsyan said he was “addressing all citizens of the Republic of Armenia… for the last time as leader of the country.”

“Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong,” he said. “The situation has several solutions, but I will not take any of them… I am leaving office of the country’s leader, of prime minister.”

His spokesman, Hovhannes Nikoghosyan, told the BBC that Mr Sargsyan was behaving responsibly and fulfilling the demands of the street movement which opposed his appointment as prime minister:

“I think his resignation is a clear demonstration of a democracy in force. It’s not that every demonstration in every corner of the world leads to the resignation of the authorities,” Mr Nikoghosyan said.

Protesters chanted “Nikol, Nikol” in the streets on Monday and waved Armenian flags. They were joined by hundreds of uniformed soldiers, despite warnings from the defence ministry that any soldiers protesting would be harshly punished.

Mr Pashinyan congratulated the people on their “victory” following the resignation. “You have won, proud citizens of the Republic of Armenia. And no one can seize this victory from you. I congratulate you, victorious people,” he wrote on Facebook.

Why were there protests?

In 2015, Armenians voted in a referendum to shift the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system, stripping powers from the president and giving them to the prime minister.

The vote was marred by allegations of ballot rigging and claims Mr Sargsyan wanted to simply switch office after his presidency ended.

The ex-president had formally stated he would “not aspire” to the prime ministerial position, but on Tuesday last week the country’s parliament officially confirmed Mr Sargsyan in the post.

Protesters poured into the streets in the days beforehand to try to stop the parliament from passing the measure, and clashed with police. On the day of the confirmation, Mr Pashinyan said the demonstrations constituted a “non-violent velvet revolution”.

Who is Serzh Sargsyan?

Mr Sargsyan served two consecutive terms as president of Armenia, starting in 2008 and ending on 9 April this year. His initial election in 2008 prompted deadly clashes between the state and opposition supporters. At least eight people died.

He won a second five-year term in 2013. Several of his opponents dropped out of the race and one candidate was shot in a suspected assassination attempt.

Mr Sargsyan was also accused of failing to address continuing tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as widespread poverty at home.

His government has also been criticised by the opposition for its close ties to Russia, whose leader Vladimir Putin also moved between the positions of president and prime minister to maintain his grip on power.

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