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Mass detentions in Armenia as police fail to quell anti-Sargsyan protests

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Mass detentions in Armenia as police fail to quell anti-Sargsyan protests

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The leader of successive protests in Armenia against the new prime minister Serzh Sargsyan has been arrested after being forcibly removed by police from a new demonstration in Yerevan.

Nikol Pashinyan was among three opposition leaders and nearly 200 protesters to be held on Sunday as police tried but failed to repress protests.

The AFP news agency and the website CivilNet.AM have reported that Nikol Pashinyan has been arrested. The prosecutor's office in Yerevan said he and two other opposition politicians had been held as they "committed acts dangerous for society", AFP reports. CivilNet.AM listed six people it said had been detained or arrested.

The detention of the opposition leader who has organised recent anti-government demonstrations followed an unsuccessful meeting with the country’s premier.

Sunday morning saw fresh clashes on the streets of the capital between police and anti-government protesters, while protests continued into the afternoon. CivilNet.AM said they had spread to other parts of Armenia.

Interfax news agency quoted police as saying that almost 200 people had been taken to police stations.

In Yerevan, a Reuters witness said police armed with batons and shields cleared at least one area where protests had been taking place, but the demonstrations continued elsewhere.

Earlier, the police denied that Pashinyan had been arrested - a claim disputed by opposition figures, witnesses and media outlets.

Another protest leader, Ararat Mirzoyan, wrote on his Facebook page that he had been "illegally detained" along with Pashinyan, as well as a third opposition politician and other protesters.

The politicians have called for people to take to the streets to protest against Sargsyan, and on ministers and police chiefs to resign.

The law says detainees must either be released within 72 hours, or charged with a criminal offence.

The EU's foreign affairs spokesperson Maja Kocijancic called for restraint and urged the Armenian authorities to respect the right to freedom of assembly.

REUTERS/Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure
Police disperse the crowd during anti-Sargsyan protest, Yerevan, Armenia, April 22, 2018 REUTERS/Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure

Sunday's events began when Armenia’s Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan walked out of a meeting with Nikol Pashinyan, leader of a small opposition faction as well as the organiser of anti-government protests, only minutes after it began on Sunday.

At the brief meeting, which was broadcast live on television, Sargsyan complained: "This is not talks, not a dialogue, it's just an ultimatum, blackmail of the state, of the legitimate authorities."

Pashinyan has led nine consecutive days of protests in Yerevan calling for Sargsyan’s resignation in the former Soviet Republic. On Saturday protesters again marched through the capital, waving national flags and chanting: “Make a stand, say no to Serzh”.

The country’s new president, Armen Sarkissian – an ally but not a relative of Sargsyan – met with Pashinyan on Saturday and urged dialogue.

Last Tuesday, Armenia’s parliament voted to allow Sargsyan, who has been president for the past decade, to become prime minister. The premier now has the most power in the country while the presidential role is largely ceremonial, following a revised constitution approved by a referendum in 2015.

Critics say Sargsyan’s election by parliament is anti-democratic and have branded it a power grab.

He had said he had no intention of becoming prime minister when his two five-year presidential terms were up, before going back on his promise.

Sargsyan's supporters claim he provides much-needed national security – while his opponents say he has failed to tackle tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and criticise his government's close ties with Russia.

The video below shows anti-Sargsyan demonstrators wrestling with police as they made arrests on Friday. © Copyright : Credit: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty via Storyful