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.
 


More US sanctions on Myanmar for rights abuses

Rohingya refugees queue at an aid relief distribution centre at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar on August 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 35 sec ago
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More US sanctions on Myanmar for rights abuses

  • The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority and most Rohingya are denied citizenship and other rights
  • The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the target of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove more than 140,000 people

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury on Friday slapped sanctions on members of the Myanmar security forces for their alleged role in violent campaigns against ethnic minorities across the troubled nation in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar security forces have engaged in ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses, said Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. “Treasury is sanctioning units and leaders overseeing this horrific behavior as part of a broader US government strategy to hold accountable those responsible for such wide-scale human suffering.”
The Trump administration earlier imposed sanctions on the chief of Myanmar’s western military command, but has faced pressure from human rights groups and lawmakers to impose more sanctions on those involved in a crackdown that began in August 2017 in western Rakhine State where 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority fled brutal army operations.
The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the target of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove more than 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remained until last year’s violence.
The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority and most Rohingya are denied citizenship and other rights. Myanmar, however, has staunchly denied that its security forces have targeted civilians in so-called clearance operations in Rakhine State on Myanmar’s west coast.
Friday’s action sanctions four commanders with the Myanmar military and border guard police plus two military units for their alleged involvement in ethnic cleaning in Rakhine and other human rights abuses in Burma’s Kachin and Shan states. Those sanctioned are: military commanders Aung Kyaw Zaw, Khin Maung Soe, Khin Hlaing and Thura San Lwin; and members of the 33rd and 99th light infantry divisions.
The sanctions block any property they own within US jurisdiction and prohibit US citizens from engaging in transactions with them.