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Armenian protesters call for premier's resignation

by AVET DEMOURIAN THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | December 6, 2020 at 3:36 a.m.
People demonstrate Saturday in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, to pressure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign over a peace deal with neighboring Azerbaijan. (AP/PAN Photo/Hrant Khachatryan)

YEREVAN, Armenia -- Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Armenian capital Saturday to push for the resignation of the former Soviet nation's prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan concerning Nagorno-Karabakh.

In six weeks of fierce fighting that ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal Nov. 10, the Azerbaijani army reclaimed lands that Armenian forces have held for more than a quarter-century.

Armenia's opposition parties warned Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan there would be civil disobedience across the country if he does not resign by noon Tuesday. Pashinyan has refused to step down, defending the peace agreement as a painful but necessary move that prevented Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region.

More than 20,000 protesters rallied in Yerevan on Saturday, chanting, "Nikol, you traitor!" and "Nikol, go away!" and then marched to the prime minister's official residence.

"The seat of the prime minister of Armenia is currently being occupied by a political corpse," Artur Vanetsyan, the leader of the opposition party Homeland and the former head of the National Security Service, said at the protest rally.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0a3KVSVo3o]

Several priests of the Armenian Apostolic Church joined the protest, denouncing Pashinyan for allowing Azerbaijan to take over some holy sites.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. That conflict left not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also large chunks of surrounding lands in Armenian hands.

In 44 days of fighting that began Sept. 27, Azerbaijan troops routed the Armenian forces and wedged deep into Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Armenia to accept the peace deal that saw the return to Azerbaijan of a significant part of the separatist region. It also obliged Armenia to hand over all of the areas it held outside Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan completed reclaiming those territories Tuesday when it took over the Lachin region between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

Armenian opposition leaders hold Pashinyan responsible for failing to negotiate an earlier end to the hostilities on better terms. They have emphasized, however, that the opposition wasn't pushing for the annulment of the peace deal.

Veteran politician Vazgen Manukyan, whom 17 opposition parties have nominated as their candidate for prime minister, said at Saturday's rally that his transition government would seek to renegotiate some vague aspects of the deal.

Manukyan, 71, served as prime minister in 1990-91, when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, and later served as defense minister during the separatist war.

Armenia's Health Ministry said Wednesday that at least 2,718 Armenian servicemen were killed in the latest fighting. At least 55 Armenian civilians also were killed.

Azerbaijan said last week that 2,783 of its troops were killed and more than 100 were still missing. The government said 94 civilians also were killed and more than 400 were wounded.

Azerbaijan celebrated the end of fighting as a national triumph, and President Ilham Aliyev established a Nov. 8 national holiday called Victory Day to commemorate the event.

Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry said it will conduct a military parade Thursday involving 3,000 troops and 150 military vehicles. It said the show will also feature trophy weapons seized from the Armenian forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Azerbaijan that day. Turkey has strongly backed its ally and used the hostilities to expand its clout in the region. Last week, Russian and Turkish military officials signed documents to set up a monitoring center to ensure the fulfillment of the peace deal.

​​​​​Information for this article was contributed by Vladimir Isachenkov and Aida Sultanova of The Associated Press.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian addresses the nation Saturday in Yerevan, Armenia.
(AP/PAN photo/Tigran Mehrabyan, Armenian Prime Minister Press Service)
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian addresses the nation Saturday in Yerevan, Armenia. (AP/PAN photo/Tigran Mehrabyan, Armenian Prime Minister Press Service)
In this handout photo provided by the Azerbaijan's Presidential Press Office, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev attends a laying ceremony at the Honorary Alley and the Alley of Martyrs in Baku, Azerbaijan, Friday, Dec, 4, 2020 Azerbaijan marked a day of remembrance for those who died in six weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh that ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim the territories that were held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century. (Azerbaijani Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this handout photo provided by the Azerbaijan's Presidential Press Office, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev attends a laying ceremony at the Honorary Alley and the Alley of Martyrs in Baku, Azerbaijan, Friday, Dec, 4, 2020 Azerbaijan marked a day of remembrance for those who died in six weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh that ended with a Russia-brokered peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim the territories that were held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century. (Azerbaijani Presidential Press Office via AP)
Opposition demonstrators carry a giant an Armenian national flag as they rally to pressure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign over a peace deal with neighboring Azerbaijan in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Armenian capital Saturday to push for the resignation of the ex-Soviet nation's prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (Lusi Sargsyan/PHOTOLURE via AP)
Opposition demonstrators carry a giant an Armenian national flag as they rally to pressure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign over a peace deal with neighboring Azerbaijan in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Armenian capital Saturday to push for the resignation of the ex-Soviet nation's prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (Lusi Sargsyan/PHOTOLURE via AP)
Opposition leaders, from left in the first row, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, Vazgen Manukyan, Artur Vanetsyan and Arman Abovyan lead a rally to pressure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign over a peace deal with neighboring Azerbaijan in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Armenian capital Saturday to push for the resignation of the ex-Soviet nation's prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (Hrant Khachatryan /PAN Photo via AP)
Opposition leaders, from left in the first row, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, Vazgen Manukyan, Artur Vanetsyan and Arman Abovyan lead a rally to pressure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign over a peace deal with neighboring Azerbaijan in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Armenian capital Saturday to push for the resignation of the ex-Soviet nation's prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (Hrant Khachatryan /PAN Photo via AP)
Opposition demonstrators hold posters of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan painted in red to represent the  blood of  those killed during the conflict Armenian soldiers and civilians as they attend a rally to pressure him to resign over a peace deal with neighboring Azerbaijan in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Armenian capital Saturday to push for the resignation of the ex-Soviet nation's prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (Hrant Khachatryan /PAN Photo via AP)
Opposition demonstrators hold posters of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan painted in red to represent the blood of those killed during the conflict Armenian soldiers and civilians as they attend a rally to pressure him to resign over a peace deal with neighboring Azerbaijan in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Armenian capital Saturday to push for the resignation of the ex-Soviet nation's prime minister over his handling of the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. (Hrant Khachatryan /PAN Photo via AP)
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