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

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.
 


EU leaders split over $1.2 trillion post-Brexit budget

Updated 18 October 2019

EU leaders split over $1.2 trillion post-Brexit budget

  • Under a proposal prepared by Finland, the next long-term budget should have a financial capacity between 1.03% and 1.08% of the EU GNI, a measure of output
  • After the meeting, some EU leaders and officials described the talks as difficult

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders discussed a new budget plan on Friday that could allow the EU to spend up to 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) in the 2021-2027 period, but deep divisions among governments may block a deal for months.
Under a proposal prepared by Finland, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, the next long-term budget should have a financial capacity between 1.03% and 1.08% of the EU gross national income (GNI), a measure of output.
That would allow the EU to spend 1 trillion to 1.1 trillion euros for seven years in its first budget after the departure of Britain, one of the top contributors to EU coffers.
After the meeting, some EU leaders and officials described the talks as difficult.
The Finnish document, seen by Reuters, is less ambitious than proposals put forward by the European Commission, the EU executive, which is seeking a budget worth 1.1% of GNI. The EU parliament called for an even bigger budget, 1.3% of GNI.
But the Finnish proposal moves beyond a 1% cap set by Germany, the largest EU economy. And it has displeased most of the 27 EU states, EU officials said, suggesting long negotiations before a compromise can be reached.
Talks on budgets are usually among the most divisive in an EU increasingly prone to quarrels. The member states are deeply split over economic policies, financial reforms and how to handle migrants.

DEEP SPLIT
The Finnish proposal, which cuts spending on farmers and poorer regions, has managed to unite the divided EU leaders in their criticism.
“The text has caused nearly unanimous dissatisfaction,” a diplomat involved in the talks said.
New, expensive policies, such as protecting its borders and increasing social security, have been enacted, but states are reluctant to pay more.
Germany and other Nordic supporters of a smaller budget argue that because of Brexit, they would pay more into the EU even with a 1% cap because they would need to compensate for the loss of Britain.
Eastern and southern states, who benefit from EU funds on poorer regions and agriculture, want a bigger budget and are not happy with Finland’s proposed cuts on these sectors.
Under the proposal, subsidies to poor regions would drop to less than 30% of the budget from 34% now. Aid to farmers would fall to slightly more than 30% from over 35% of the total.
To complicate matters, the new budget should also include rules that would suspend funding to member states with rule-of-law shortcomings, such as limits on media freedom or curbs on the independence of judges.
This is irking states like Poland and Hungary, which Brussels has accused of breaches in the rule of law after judiciary and media reforms adopted by their right-wing governments.
Friday’s meeting was not supposed to find a compromise, but divisions are so deep that many officials fear a deal may not be reached by a self-imposed December deadline. A later deal would delay the launch of spending programs.
The Finns remained confident, however, and insist their suggested spending range would eventually be backed by EU states. “The fact that almost everybody is against our text shows we have put forward a fair proposal,” one diplomat said.