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Thousands rally in Yerevan ahead of Armenian-Azeri summit

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Several thousand opposition supporters rallied Tuesday in the Armenian capital Yerevan to denounce the government’s handling of a territorial dispute with arch-foe Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Long-contested between the Caucasus neighbors, Karabakh was at the center of an all-out war in 2020 that claimed more than 6,500 lives before it ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement.

The pact saw Armenia cede swathes of territories it had controlled for decades in what was seen in Armenia as a national humiliation, sparking weeks of mass anti-government protests.

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Waving Armenian and Karabakh flags, protesters filled the capital’s central Freedom Square on Tuesday evening, with many shouting anti-government slogans.

They then marched through downtown Yerevan, vowing to block traffic in the streets later in the evening.

The rally was held on the eve of a summit in Brussels between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

“The government is ready to give away Karabakh to Azerbaijan,” Gegham Manukyan, a leader of opposition Dashnaktsutyun party told AFP at the rally.

“We have gathered here to draw red lines which no Armenian government must cross while dealing with Azerbaijan,” he added.
“Many in Armenia rule out an option of Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan.”

During their talks on Wednesday, mediated by the European Council President Charles Michel, Aliyev and Pashinyan are expected to discuss the start of negotiations on a “comprehensive peace treaty.”

Their meeting comes after a flare-up in Karabakh on March 25 that saw Azerbaijan capture a strategic village in the area under the Russian peacekeepers’ responsibility, killing three separatist troops.

Moscow and Yerevan at the time accused Azerbaijan of a ceasefire violation, a charge Baku has rejected insisting its troops are in Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.

Yerevan also called on Baku to start peace talks “without delay.” Baku agreed, saying it had already put forward such a proposal a year ago.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflicts claimed around 30,000 lives.

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