Armenian leader resigns, says to protesters: ‘I was wrong’

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Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan delivers a speech during a protest against the appointment of ex-president Serzh Sarksyan as the new prime minister, after being released by police in central Yerevan on April 23, 2018. (REUTERS/Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure)
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Armenians celebrate prime minister Serzh Sarkisian's resignation in downtown Yerevan on April 23, 2018. (AFP / Vano Shlamov)
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People celebrate Armenian prime minister Serzh Sarkisian's resignation in downtown Yerevan on April 23, 2018. (AFP / KAREN MINASYAN)
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In this photo taken on Sunday, April 22, 2018, former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, left, leaves a meeting with protest leader Nikol Pashinian, right, in Yerevan. Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan has resigned, according to his website. (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)
Updated 23 April 2018
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Armenian leader resigns, says to protesters: ‘I was wrong’

  • Armenians have poured out into the streets in protest over Sargsyan's apparent attempt to perpetuate himself in power
  • Former Prime Minister Karen Karapetian was named acting premier and opposition leader Nikol Pashinian was released from detention

YEREVAN: Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned unexpectedly Monday to quell massive anti-government protests over what critics feared was his effort to seize power for life.
Residents of the capital, Yerevan, poured out on the streets to celebrate his stunning departure. People hugged and kissed each other, and motorists honked their horns.
Protest leader “Nikol Pashinian was right. I was wrong,” Sargsyan, a former Armenian president, said in a surprise announcement on his website. “The movement on the streets is against my rule. I’m complying with their demands.”
The move plunges the Caucasian Mountains country into uncertainty after 10 days of protests against Sargsyan’s appointment as prime minister.
The appointment was part of a transition to a new governmental system that reduces the powers of the presidency and bolsters those of the premier. Critics saw that as an attempt by 63-year-old Sargsyan, who served as president from 2008 until term limits forced him out in March, to stay in power indefinitely.
It echoes similar tenure-lengthening maneuvers by Russian President Vladimir Putin — Armenia’s closest ally. Leaders of other former Soviet republics from Belarus to Central Asia have also engineered themselves lifetime jobs.
The streets of Yerevan have turned into masses of human anger since anti-government protesters began rallying on April 13, blocking government buildings and facing off with police. Sunday’s rally attracted some 50,000 demonstrators.
Pashinian, the protest leader, was arrested on Sunday after he met the prime minister for talks. Sargsyan abruptly ended the meeting when Pashinian refused to discuss anything besides the prime minister’s resignation. The protest leader was released from custody Monday afternoon.
Sargsyan said Monday that he should not have resisted the demands of the opposition.
Opposition leaders have not yet commented on Sargsyan’s resignation and have called a rally in central Yerevan for Monday evening.
The Armenian government quickly named former Prime Minister Karen Karapetian as acting premier. A Sargsyan ally, Karapetian also served as mayor of Yerevan and worked in Russia for five years as a senior executive of state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.
Alexander Iskanderian, director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, told The Associated Press that the protests drove Sargsyan into a corner:
“The protests in the past couple of days have swelled to a point that you either had to use violence or find another way out,” Iskanderian said.
Russian officials and state television have been cautious in commenting on the unrest in Armenia. In the past, Moscow decried anti-government rallies in neighboring post-Soviet nations as example of hostile Western interference.
In what appeared to be the first official Russian reaction to the resignation of the Armenian premier, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova lauded Sargsyan’s decision as a move to unify the nation.
“The people who have the strength to keep respect toward each other despite crucial differences and stay united even in the most difficult moments of its history is a great people,” Zakharova wrote on her Facebook account. “Armenia, Russia is always with you!“
When Sargsyan switched to the prime minister’s job, ally Armen Sarkisian, a former prime minister and ambassador to Britain, was elected president in Sargsyan’s place. Sarkisian was seen as an unofficial Sargsyan appointee.
 


Pyongyang hits Pence ‘stupid’ remarks, threatens to quit summit

Updated 6 min ago
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Pyongyang hits Pence ‘stupid’ remarks, threatens to quit summit

TOKYO: North Korea has renewed its threat to pull out of a summit next month with President Donald Trump, saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table.
Pyongyang’s latest salvo follows recent comments by US Vice President Mike Pence suggesting the North may end up like Libya if it doesn’t move forward with denuclearization.
Choe Son Hui, the vice minister of foreign affairs, was quoted Thursday by the North’s state-run news agency slamming as “ignorant” and “stupid” comments Pence made in an interview with Fox News that compared North Korea to Libya, saying they showed he does not understand North Korea’s situation.
She also questioned whether the summit, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, would be worthwhile if the remarks reflect Washington’s position.
“We will neither beg the US for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us,” KCNA quoted her as saying. “Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”
The summit plan has hit a number of speed bumps recently as both sides have begun taking tougher positions and trading barbs. Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday at the White House for consultations and suggested the summit could be delayed. But the US says it is still working on making it happen.
Choe, a veteran diplomat and former head of the North America desk at the Foreign Ministry, was responding to comments Pence made to Fox News this week that it would be a “mistake” for the North Koreans to think they can “play” Trump. Pence said both the Clinton and Bush administrations had been “played” by the North Korean government.
“We offered concessions to the North Korean regime in exchange for promises to end their nuclear weapons program, only to see them break those promises and abandon them,” he said, adding that if Pyongyang does not go along with talks to give up its nuclear weapons, Washington could return to the “Libya model.”
That suggestion, which was made earlier this month by National Security Adviser John Bolton and also sparked an outraged response from the North, is especially inflammatory to Pyongyang.
The Libya model refers to negotiations in 2004 that led to the shipping of nuclear components to the US from Libya under Muammar Qaddafi. But in Pyongyang’s mind the most important part of the story is what came after that. Qaddafi was deposed after a 42-year reign and killed in 2011 — the year Kim assumed power in North Korea — while his country spiraled into chaos.
“In view of the remarks of the US high-ranking politicians who have not yet woken up to this stark reality and compare the DPRK to Libya that met a tragic fate, I come to think that they know too little about us,” she said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name.
She added: “To borrow their words, we can also make the US taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now.”
How seriously the North would really consider calling off the summit isn’t entirely clear, however.
Meeting with Trump as an equal on the world stage would be an important moment for Kim and Choe couched her statement carefully, noting that she would only recommend the North Korean leader withdraw from the meeting if Washington “clings to unlawful and outrageous acts.”
North Korea was also expected to go through with a major gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit by dismantling its nuclear test site. The North, which has vowed to stop all underground nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, has invited foreign media to the remote site to observe a ceremony to mark the closing.
The ceremony was expected to be held Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather.