Tens of thousands protest as Armenia crisis deepens

Armenia’s anti-government protest leader Nikol Pashinyan leaves after a televised meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian who left shortly after it began in an hotel in Yerevan on April 22, 2018, denouncing the opposition’s “blackmail” after 10 days of mass demonstrations against an alleged power grab by Sarkisian. (AFP/Vano Shlamov)
Updated 26 April 2018

Tens of thousands protest as Armenia crisis deepens

  • Russia — which has a military base in Armenia — earlier said it was watching the situation “very closely” but reiterated it would not interfere
  • Demonstrators marched through Yerevan against the ruling Republican Party’s unwillingness to transfer power after its leader and former president Sarkisian stood down from his new post of prime minister

YEREVAN: Armenia’s political turmoil deepened with fresh protests set for Thursday after the opposition accused the ruling party of refusing to cede power following the resignation of veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian.
Protesters clapped, whistled, beat drums, banged pots and tooted car horns in demonstrations that underscored the political crisis gripping the impoverished former Soviet republic.
Many raised their hands in the air — a sign that the protest movement led by opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan is peaceful — and robed priests joined the rallies in an apparent attempt to prevent possible clashes.
Led by 42-year-old Pashinyan, thousands of demonstrators earlier in the day marched through Yerevan against the ruling Republican Party’s unwillingness to transfer power after its leader and former president Sarkisian stood down Monday from his new post of prime minister.
Pashinyan sported his trademark khaki-colored T-shirt and clutched a megaphone as protesters chanted “Nikol for prime minister” and “We are the masters of our country.”
Stepan Grigoryan, a political analyst who joined the rallies, said it was a do-or-die situation, describing the current system as “criminal.”
“The head has been chopped off,” he said, referring to Sarkisian’s resignation Monday, “but the body — the Republican Party — remains and it needs to be removed.”
In a surprise move, Sarkisian, who served as president for a decade, stood down as prime minister just a week after being elected by parliament, following days of protests by demonstrators who accused him of a blatant power grab.
Pashinyan, leader of the Civil Contract Party, had been due Wednesday to hold talks with acting government head Karen Karapetyan to discuss a “peaceful” power transfer. But the negotiations were canceled late Tuesday.
Addressing supporters on Wednesday night, he called on Karapetyan to “immediately recognize our revolution’s victory and abandon his ambitions.
“If the Republican Party dares to present a candidate the people will surround the parliament and government buildings,” he said.
Pashinyan has insisted the new premier must be a “people’s candidate” and not a member of Sarkisian’s party, and has said he is willing to lead the impoverished country.
“We need the Republicans to leave, or else nothing will change,” said Varazdat Panoian, 28, who joined the crowds gathered in the capital.
The Yelk opposition bloc said Wednesday it would nominate Pashinyan for prime minister. But a lawmaker from the bloc, Edmon Marukyan of the Bright Armenia party, said Pashinyan was currently 13 votes short of a majority. A candidate would need 53 votes to get elected.
A small member of the current ruling coalition, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, said it was leaving the coalition on Wednesday evening calling for a new prime minister to be elected to “overcome the political crisis.”
But the move posed no immediate threat to the Republican Party’s rule as it still held 58 seats in parliament.
On Wednesday, Serzh Sarkisian called a meeting with Republican MPs to explain the reasons for his resignation and discuss the party’s future in a statement reported by Armenian media.
“As much as I am determined not to interfere in political processes after my resignation, I now believe that I must do this,” Sarkisian said.
“I invited you to talk about peace and stability,” he said.
Karapetyan, who has accused Pashinyan of promoting his own agenda, proposed holding a snap election so voters themselves could decide on the new leader under a parliamentary system of government.
Armenia’s President Armen Sarkisian, who is no relation to Serzh Sarkisian, and is a ceremonial figurehead, urged compromise.
The Kremlin on Wednesday said Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke to Armen Sarkisian, urging “all political forces in the country to show restraint and responsibility.”
Russia — which has a military base in Armenia — earlier said it was watching the situation “very closely” but reiterated it would not interfere.
Russia hopes that a “stable solution” can be found, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov, stressing that it was however an “internal matter” for the country to deal with.
The opposition had accused 63-year-old Serzh Sarkisian of wanting to extend his grip on power under a new parliamentary system, saying he failed to tackle a litany of problems including poverty and corruption.


Patten says China pursuing ‘Orwellian’ agenda in Hong Kong

Updated 24 min 13 sec ago

Patten says China pursuing ‘Orwellian’ agenda in Hong Kong

  • Chris Patten defended London’s announcement that it would grant residency and a path to citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents
  • China shocked many of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people when it announced earlier this month that it will enact a national security law for the city

BEIJING: The last British governor of Hong Kong criticized the Chinese government on Friday over proposed national security legislation, calling it part of an “Orwellian” drive to eliminate opposition in violation of the agreement on handing the territory over to Beijing.
Chris Patten defended London’s announcement that it would grant residency and a path to citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents if Beijing goes through with passage of the legislation.
The law is seen as potentially imposing severe restrictions on freedom of speech and opposition political activity in the former British colony that was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997. China has denounced the offer of citizenship as a violation of its sovereignty.
“If they’ve broken the (Sino-British) Joint Declaration, if they’ve thrown it overboard, how can they then use the joint declaration as though it stops us doing something that’s a sovereign right of ours?” said Patten, now chancellor of the University of Oxford, in an online talk with reporters.
The declaration is a bilateral treaty signed as part of the handover process. China has essentially declared it null and void, while Britain says Beijing is reneging on its commitments made in the document that was supposed to be remain in effect until 2047.
China shocked many of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people when it announced earlier this month that it will enact a national security law for the city, which was promised a high level of autonomy outside of foreign and defense affairs.
An earlier push to pass security legislation was shelved after massive Hong Kong street protests against it in 2003. However, Beijing appeared to lose patience after months of sometimes violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year that China said was an attempt to split the territory off from the rest of the country.
Patten said the security legislation is unnecessary because Hong Kong’s legal code already includes provisions to combat terrorism, financial crimes and other threats to security.
“What Beijing wants is something which deals with those rather worrying Orwellian crimes like sedition, whatever that may be,” Patten said.
China may also be seeking grounds to disqualify opposition candidates from running in September’s election for the local legislature by accusing them of being disloyal, he said.
Beijing has ignored promises that Hong Kong could democratize of its own accord after the handover, Patten said. The US should unite with other democratic countries to oppose underhanded tactics by Beijing, he said.
“It’s the Chinese Communist Party which attacks us, which hectors, which bullies, which tells companies which have roots in our countries, that unless they do what China wants, they won’t get any business in China,” Patten said. “That’s the way the Mafia behave, and the rest of the world shouldn’t put up with it, because if we do, liberal democracies are going to be screwed.”