Tens of thousands of Armenians shut down capital in show of defiance

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Supporters of Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan react, after his bid to be interim prime minister was blocked by the parliament, during a rally in central Yerevan, Armenia on May 1, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Armenian opposition supporters ride on a truck at Republic Square after protest movement leader Nikol Pashinyan announced a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience in Yerevan, Armenia, on May 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
Updated 03 May 2018

Tens of thousands of Armenians shut down capital in show of defiance

  • The poor, Moscow-allied nation was plunged into its most serious political crisis in years last month when mass demonstrations forced the resignation of longtime leader Serzh Sargsyan
  • Armenians’ famed good humor and temperament were on full display as they turned the general strike into a colorful spectacle

YEREVAN: Tens of thousands of Armenians converged on the capital Wednesday, blocking key transport links and government buildings, as popular anger exploded over the ruling party’s rejection of opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan’s bid to become prime minister.

In an unprecedented show of defiance, protesters including elderly people, pupils and even housewives paralyzed Yerevan, with streets closed to traffic, and the subway and numerous stores shut.

The poor, Moscow-allied nation was plunged into its most serious political crisis in years last month when mass demonstrations led by Pashinyan forced the resignation of longtime leader Serzh Sargsyan.

Crowds of protesters across the city Wednesday waved national flags, blew vuvuzelas and shouted “Free, independent Armenia!,” turning a new day of rallies into a street carnival.

Leading supporters on a march, Pashinyan pledged to ramp up pressure on the authorities.

“Various scenarios are under discussion; under each scenario, the people will win,” said Pashinyan who was wearing his trademark khaki-colored T-shirt and a baseball cap.

Suburban train services were disrupted and the road linking Yerevan with its airport was blocked, forcing travelers to drag their luggage on foot.

The central bank warned Armenians against a run on banks, saying it was capable of ensuring the “stability of the country’s financial system.”

Protesters said they would persist for as long as it takes to oust the ruling elites from power to rid the country of poverty and corruption.

“The people will not give up, protests will not subside,” said Sergey Konsulyan, a 45-year-old businessman.

Student Gayane Amiragyan, 19, added: “We will win because we are united, the whole Armenian people are united.”

On social media, Armenians launched a “name and shame” campaign against lawmakers, forcing the Parliament speaker to ask them to stop harassing MPs.

“I urge a halt to the persecution of lawmakers, stop insulting them on social media, on the streets and public places and publishing their addresses and phone numbers,” said Ara Babloyan.

In Parliament, lawmakers could not convene for a session due to the absence of a quorum, with the Prosperous Armenia party declaring a boycott over “an emergency situation in the country.”

Lawmakers will try to elect a prime minister next Tuesday, Babloyan said. If they fail again, the legislature will be dissolved and early elections called.

In the second city of Gyumri — which hosts a Russian military base — and the smaller town of Maralik, demonstrators burst into the mayor’s offices, demanding the local authorities join the protest movement.

Acting head of government Karen Karapetyan urged talks to end the crisis.

“A prime minister should only be elected in parliament according to the constitution,” he said.

Armenians’ famed good humor and temperament were on full display as they turned the general strike into a colorful spectacle, performing the country’s national dance at the roadblocks and grilling meat.

A photo of a little boy blocking a street with his tiny toy cars went viral, as did a picture of a coffin outside the offices of the ruling party in the small town of Artik.

Pashinyan urged Armenians to launch a general strike after the ruling Republican Party on Tuesday shot down his bid for prime minister following weeks of protests against Sargsyan and Armenia’s corrupt elite.

Parliament voted 45 in favor to 55 against Pashinyan, with Sargsyan’s Republican Party saying he was not a suitable candidate for the top job.

Pashinyan — who was the sole candidate in the running for prime minister— was widely expected to get elected.

But his failure has plunged the Moscow-allied nation into uncertainty, with observers expressing concern that the turmoil could destabilize the country and the wider region.

Pashinyan has ruled out any possibility of clashes between protesters and police but the risk of violence has not been lost on politicians in a country locked in a decades-long territorial dispute with Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan’s protest movement had accused Sargsyan and his party of a power grab, saying the former leader wanted to extend his grip on power by becoming premier after serving as president for a decade, despite failing to tackle a litany of problems.


UAE position on Palestine in line with Arab consensus, says diplomat

Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 6 min 40 sec ago

UAE position on Palestine in line with Arab consensus, says diplomat

  • Emirati envoy: Israel deal ‘puts two-state solution back on the table’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron hailed in a tweet the “courageous decision” of the United Arab Emirates to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and expressed his wishes that it will contribute to a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed, the Emirati ambassador to France, told Arab News-French edition that the decision of the Israeli government to annex Palestinian territory had already been taken and had preoccupied the international community since the signing of the Oslo agreement, and until a few years ago this problem was the keystone of the two-state solution.

Al-Ahmed said: “If the Israeli government executes its plans to annex the Palestinian territories then this means that the two-state solution should be forgotten and that we will be back to the situation that prevailed 30 years ago.”

However, he added that “we are convinced that this trilateral agreement between the UAE, Israel and the US as a principal actor, especially with the strengthening of the US presence in our region, will contribute in enhancing peace, security and stability in the region.”

Regarding Israeli declarations that annexation will only be suspended and not canceled, Al-Ahmed said: “There are no relations that begin in an ideal way, yet a step was made today when the Israeli government agreed to freeze annexation. It is definitely not a final solution, we will see what will comes next.”

However, the Emirati diplomat said: “The kick off of relations between the UAE and Israel opens the gates, and what will follow will not be confined to the political level but will equally cover the economic, technological and academic levels. It is highly possible that the tempo of the development of these relations will be faster. We will see.”

For Al-Ahmed, the return of the two-state solution to the negotiating table is undoubtedly an accomplishment. With regards to the rejection by the Palestinian authority of this agreement, the ambassador said: “It would have been more feasible for the Palestinian authority to thank the Emirati diplomacy, after all the decision of the UAE is a sovereign one that was already preceded by Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians themselves.

We are convinced that this trilateral agreement between the UAE, Israel and the US as a principal actor … will contribute in enhancing peace, security and stability in the region.

Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed, Emirati ambassador to France

“We do not negotiate in the name of the Palestinians and it is not up to us to do so. However, our position regarding the Palestinian cause is in line with the Arab consensus regarding Jerusalem and other parameters of Arab unanimity, we adhere to them and we do not relinquish them,” the Emirati ambassador added.

On whether the Emirati embassy in Israel would be located in Jerusalem. Al-Ahmed said: “We are in the beginning of establishing diplomatic relations, however, we will see how all this will progress in the coming days. We are still in the phase of telephone contacts through which the kick off of diplomatic relations that will determine all the details depends. The UAE has put conditions on this agreement and the US has accepted to put the two-state solution back to the table of negotiations.”

On whether the agreement between the UAE and Israel means that the Arab peace plan or peace initiative of late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz is no longer valid, Al-Ahmed said: “Surely not, as the King Abdullah initiative is based on the two-state solution, which is the essence of the initiative.”

On whether the Emirati-Israeli agreement aims at enhancing US President Donald Trump’s re-election chances, Al-Ahmed said that US voters are unconcerned with foreign politics, and this is well known, and that had the US not been the guarantor of this agreement, it would have never been achieved.

If the agreement was aimed at confronting Iran and Turkey in the region, Al-Ahmed said that diplomatic relations between the two countries have many factors, including social, political, and cultural ones, and that the UAE is convinced that Israel can benefit a lot from Arab countries, for the UAE can benefit from relations with Israel.

“We have already cooperated on the medical scientific level regarding the coronavirus pandemic, especially between Emirati and Israeli companies in matters of pharmaceutical research.”

Regarding the Arab country that will come next, the Emirati ambassador believes that if Israel wants to live in peace in the Arab region, and if the Arab states want a prosperous economy, then there should be agreements with other Arab states which serves the interests of both parties.