Police in Armenia have arrested scores of opposition supporters amid ongoing protests and sit-ins in the capital, Yerevan, against the parliament’s election of former President Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister.
Hundreds of opposition supporters took to the streets of Yerevan, waving national flags and carrying placards reading, “Sarkisian is a dictator.”
Meanwhile, some demonstrators tried to block roads in response to repeated calls by the leader of the protests, opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan, to paralyze traffic.
According to police, dozens of people were arrested.
There is an ongoing campaign of “civil disobedience” meant to show public opposition to Sargsyan’s efforts to cling to power in a new parliamentary system of government. The former military officer ruled Armenia under a presidential system for 10 years.
The peak of the protests was on Tuesday, when some 40,000 people demonstrated in the capital after the parliament elected Sargsyan as the new prime minister. Under controversial amendments to the constitution passed in 2015, governing powers will be transferred from the presidency to the premier.
The spokesman for Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party said the newly elected premier would not quit.
“We respect citizens’ right to freedom of assembly but we rule out the possibility of the prime minister resigning,” Eduard Sharmazanov told reporters late Thursday.
Human Rights Watch has denounced the “arbitrary arrests” of protesters.
“One should not underestimate the challenges Armenia’s police are facing in maintaining law and order, but the ongoing protests are no justification to arbitrarily detain people,” the HRW said in a statement.
Armenia’s new President Armen Sarkisian was sworn in last week but he has much less power under the new governance system.
Sargsyan had a relatively difficult time ruling Armenia over the past 10 years due to economic hardships hampering his government’s efforts to improve welfare for Armenia’s 2.9 million people as well as renewed military clashes with Azerbaijan, an ally of the West in the South Caucasus, over the thorny issue of Karabakh.
Sargsyan has faced similar protests in the past. Some 10 people died and hundreds were injured in clashes that erupted after he was elected president in 2008.