Thousands in Armenia demand PM quit over mishandling war with Azerbaijan

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Thousands of protesters rallied in the capital of Armenia on Saturday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who they accuse of mishandling last year’s war with Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan has resisted pressure to step down since November, when he signed a peace deal brokered by Russia that ended the six-week conflict with neighbor Azerbaijan.

In the deal, received with hostility in Armenia, Pashinyan ceded swathes of territory in and around the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region to end fighting that had claimed some 6,000 lives.

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Demonstrators gathered Saturday on Freedom Square in the centre Yerevan under a heavy police presence shouting “Armenia without Nikol!” and “Nikol traitor,” an AFP journalist reported.

“Our dream is a mighty, powerful homeland and the sole obstacle that hampers the achievement of this goal is Nikol Pashinyan,” Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a leader of opposition Dashnaktsutyun party, told the crowd.

“We will not step back, we will get rid of Pashinyan,” he said.

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In the 1990s, Armenian-backed separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan in a war for the mountainous province that left tens of thousands dead.

But in the latest conflict, which erupted in late September, Turkey backed Azerbaijan, although denying accusations from several sources that it had sent mercenaries to the frontlines.

Armenia’s ally Russia, although it refused to intervene militarily, brokered the ceasefire and has since deployed thousands of peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh.

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