YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s grip on power appeared to be waning on Friday, a day after the army asked him to resign.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in the capital Yerevan to demand his downfall, and a leading opposition figure called on the army to rebel against him. Two former presidents have already said he must resign.
Pashinyan, 45, accused the army of an attempted coup on Thursday and tried to fire the chief of staff, after the army issued a written statement asking him to resign.
He has faced calls to resign since November from compatriots who blame him for a disastrous six-week war in which ethnic Armenian forces lost swaths of territory in neighboring Azerbaijan that they had held for decades.
As crowds demanded his resignation on Friday, thousands more had gathered in the capital to support him on Thursday.
Pashinyan told his supporters Thursday that he was firing Onik Gasparyan, the army’s chief of staff general. But by Friday, Armenia’s president had yet to approve the impeachment, a necessary step for it to take effect.
President Armen Sarkissian held a meeting with Gasparyan, the president’s office said, without elaborating.
Vazgen Manukyan, a politician who has been touted by the opposition as a possible interim prime minister to replace Pashinyan, told hundreds of supporters at a rally that the military would never allow Gasparyan to be fired.
“Do you think the army will easily accept that Pashinyan takes their heads illegally? No. The army will rebel. I call on the army to rebel. The army should not carry out illegal orders,” Manukyan said.
The attorney general’s office told Reuters on Friday it was investigating whether the army’s call for the prime minister to leave was a crime.
“The statement of the general staff and the possible risk of events around it are the subject of our attention,” Gor Abrahamyan, an assistant attorney general, told Reuters by telephone. “If any element of a crime described in the penal code is revealed, a legal response will be given immediately.
Pashinyan, a former journalist and lawmaker, came to power in May 2018 in a peaceful popular uprising known as the Armenian Velvet Revolution.
But the loss of territory in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave last year was a severe blow to Armenians, who had gained control of the area in the 1990s in a war that killed at least 30,000 people.
The conflict was halted thanks to a ceasefire agreement negotiated by Russia. Moscow, which has deployed peacekeepers to enforce the ceasefire, said on Friday that it was vital that the accords be fully implemented despite the crisis in Armenia.
(Reporting by Artem Mikryukov and Nvard Hovhannisyan; written by Tom Balmforth; edited by Peter Graff)