- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 2, 2018

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — The opposition leader spearheading weeks of protest in Armenia warned the government Wednesday not to deploy troops and said the country’s political crisis can’t be solved by force.

Nikol Pashinian told The Associated Press that the ruling party effectively was suicidal for rejecting his bid to become prime minister in a parliamentary vote a day earlier.

He said the rejection of his bid to lead the country had only galvanized the opposition and that if the government brings troops to the capital to quell protests “all the soldiers will come to us and join us.”

Pashinian’s comments came as opposition protesters blocked the road leading from Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, to its airport, as well as several subway stations and government ministries. The actions were in response to his call for a national strike, intensifying the political turmoil that has gripped the country since mid-April.

Mass demonstrations forced Serzh Sargsyan to resign last week as prime minister just days after he was named to the post. Sargsyan was Armenia’s president for 10 years before stepping down because of term limits. He became prime minister amid a change in government structure that boosts the post’s powers, and opponents said the shift would allow him to remain the country’s leader indefinitely.

“Today, our actions are much bigger and there is a big crowd reaction from society and from the people,” Pashinian said in an interview.

Because of the blockade of the road to Zvartnots Airport by about 300 young demonstrators and their cars, many travelers were forced to take long walks with their luggage to reach their flights.

Pashinian and about 3,000 of his supporters marched to the center of Yerevan in the morning.

Although the vote against Pashinian in the parliament on Tuesday dashed the opposition’s hopes for a quick resolution of the tensions, there were no immediate signs that tempers would boil over into clashes. Pashinian insisted that the demonstrations would continue to be peaceful.

“Police and security services are neutral and if they (government) will bring for example the army to Yerevan, all soldiers will come to us and they will join us. And there is no way for any solution by force,” Pashinian said in English.

The parliament, where Sargsyan’s Republican Party has a majority of seats, is to hold another vote on naming a prime minister next Tuesday.

But Pashinian said that by rejecting his bid candidacy for prime minister on Tuesday, the party had dealt itself a fatal blow.

“I think that the Republican Party yesterday have made a suicide pact, as a party, as a whole,” he said.

Acts of disobedience took place elsewhere in the small former Soviet republic on Wednesday, including protesters occupying the mayor’s office in Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city.


Jim Heintz In Moscow contributed to this story.

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