YEREVAN (Reuters) – A politician who forced Armenia's prime minister to resign on Tuesday led thousands of people on a march, saying he was ready to seize power and put pressure on the ruling elite agreed to a real change.
Prime Minister Sersch Sarksyan, who has ruled The country as president before, for a decade, resigned from street protests on Monday after nearly two weeks, triggered by allegations he had manipulated the constitution to cling to power ,
Legislator Nikol Pashinyan played a key role in the removal of Sarksyan, organizing many of the protests, and urging the Prime Minister to go to a television exchange before being arrested and released. He will hold talks with the ruling party on Wednesday.
In a move that was likely to prolong a political crisis that shook one of Russia's closest allies in the former Soviet Union, Pashinyan said Tuesday he was ready to become the country's next prime minister.
"When people take on this responsibility, I'm ready to become the prime minister," said Pashinyan, who wore his typical black baseball cap and military T-shirt, to reporters.
The 42-year-old said the velvet revolution he had created was not over yet, and the next step would be to elect a new prime minister and hold an early parliamentary election.
He said he would not accept a new prime minister from the ruling Republican Party, whom Sarksyan, the man he forced to resign, still led.
If elected, he said he would try to maintain a balance in foreign policy, but excluded the questioning of the presence of Russian military bases in Armenia or the country's membership in Russia's military and economic alliances.
"We will not make any sharp geopolitical moves," he said.
A few hours earlier, Pashinyan had led thousands of people through the capital city of Yerevan to a hilltop monument dedicated to the victims of the Ottoman Turks massacre of Armenians in 1915, reinforcing its growing political significance.
Some chanted his name and waved the national flag as they marked the anniversary of the killings.
Armenia says the murders were a genocide during the First World War. Muslim majority Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed during the war, but denies that the killings constitute genocide.
Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan Sarksyan ally said it was important to stay united in the midst of political turmoil
"We are living through a very difficult period in our new history … and demonstrate to the whole world that we are in agreement despite difficulties and unresolved issues, "Karapetyan said in a statement after giving flowers at the Memorial to the Victims of the Massacres.
"We reaffirm our determination to build a strong statehood and a free and civilized society."
Sarksyan's allies, such as Karapetjan, remain in important positions in the government and it remains unclear whether his resignation will really announce anything change.
Armenia's political parties in parliament must now present the name of a new prime minister within seven days.
Pashinyan has a history of political activism and was among opposition activists who demonstrated against Sarksyan's 2008 presidential election victory. In clashes following this victory, ten people were killed.
After a period of hiding, Pashinyan surrendered to the police in 2009 and was sentenced to four years in prison for organizing civil unrest. He was released amnesty two years later.
"Nikol is a really popular leader we trust," said Karen Mkhitaryan, a 19-year-old student, about Pashinyan.
Politicians and experts said Tuesday that Sarksyan had decided to resign due to the unbearable pressure of mass protests.
"Thousands of people were on the streets for days, calling for his resignation, and the moment came when he had no means to suppress this movement," said Ararat Mirzoyan, an opposition leader, to Reuters.
Some said that Sarksyan's move was a rare example of a leader's political wisdom under pressure.
"Sersch Sarksyan reaffirmed that he is a true statesman," Deputy Speaker of Parliament Eduard Sharmazanov told Reuters. Others praised him for not having come to a bloody suppression of power, which he had hinted on Sunday.
Sarksyan was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Moscow is watching events in Armenia, where it has two military bases. The Kremlin said on Tuesday it was pleased that the situation seems stable for now.
Many experts say it is too early to predict what lies ahead.
"What we need is a sober reconfiguration of power sharing," said Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center.
"But such a consensus and compromise seems very far away, and with rising expectations and anger dangerously high, the real challenge of governance is just beginning."
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