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Armenian Prime Minister Sargsyan Resigns Amid Mass Protests in Yerevan

© AP Photo / Davit HakobyanArmenia's President Serzh Sargsyan prepares to casts his ballot at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia, Sunday, April 2, 2017
Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan prepares to casts his ballot at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia, Sunday, April 2, 2017 - Sputnik International
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MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan on Monday announced his resignation against the backdrop of large-scale protests that had gathered tens of thousands of people in the Armenian capital.

Since April 13, Yerevan has been hit by a series of protests against Sargsyan's candidacy for premiership. On Tuesday, the parliament elected Sargsyan as prime minister, while the protesters announced the beginning of a "velvet revolution" in the country.

A participant in a protest rally against the election of former President Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister of Armenia in Yerevan - Sputnik International
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Before the appointment, Sargsyan served two five-year consecutive terms as president until April 9. His election as prime minister had been largely regarded as an attempt to get around presidential term limits, since the 2015 constitutional amendments transferred governing powers from the president to the prime minister.

While the protests were ongoing, Sargsyan met with leader of the opposition protests Nikol Pashinyan. However, the talks were unsuccessful, and the opposition figure as well as many other demonstrators were detained by police.

Following Sargsyan's resignation, Armenian First Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan became acting prime minister of the Caucasian nation.

'I have made a mistake'

After serving as the country's prime minister for a week, Sargsyan's press service released a statement on Monday, in which the politician addressed the nation as its leader for the last time.

"I address you for the last time as head of state. Nikol Pashinyan was right. I have made a mistake. In this situation, there are several solutions, but I will not resort to any of them. It is not for me. I'm leaving the position as the head of our country," Sargsyan said.

The politician added that if the "street" was against him as prime minister, he would step down.

Resignation of Cabinet

Following the Sargsyan's decision, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accepted the resignation of the cabinet.

"In line with Article 13 of the Constitution, to accept the resignation of the Government of the Republic of Armenia," a decree, posted on the presidential website, said.

Celebrations

A few hours before the resignation, Armenian authorities freed Pashinyan along with Ararat Mirzoyan, another opposition lawmaker who was detained during the protests. Following the liberation Pashinyan announced a "victorious rally" in Yerevan.

Sargsyan's resignation was welcomed by tens of thousands of residents, who gathered in the central part of Yerevan. The slogan for the protests — "Make a step — say no to Serzh!" — have been replaced by "Congratulations!" chants. Audible applause could be heard throughout the central Republic Square, where Yerevan residents were embracing one another and waving national flags.

Pashinyan's speech

Pashinyan delivered a speech following his release from custody, in which he stated that a new prime minister should be appointed in a week's time.

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The opposition figured recalled how on Monday, despite the authorities suggesting that Sargsyan postpone his resignation, he had insisted on the urgency of the move.

The opposition figure added that he had reached an agreement with Karapetyan to release all people who had been detained during the protests.

"We have agreed with Karapetyan that all the detained participants of the 'velvet revolution' will be released. I expect that it will take place before the end of the day," Pashinyan said, adding that "the release of political prisoners would be the next step."

According to Pashinyan, his talks with Karapetyan on the transition of power will continue on Wednesday.

Moscow's reaction

The developments in Armenia have already been commented on by Russian officials.

Ahead of Sargsyan's resignation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Sputnik that Moscow was following the developments in Armenia and expressed hope that everything would be done within the legal framework.

"We are watching what is happening in Armenia and, in fact, the main thing is that we hope everything will proceed within the framework of the law," Peskov said, asked whether the Kremlin was following what is happening in Yerevan.

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The Kremlin official added that Russia considered the developments in the Caucasian country a domestic issue.

First Deputy Chairman of the Russian parliament's lower house Committee on Foreign Relations Dmitry Novikov told Sputnik the ties between Moscow and Yerevan would not be affected by Sargsyan's resignation, since Armenian politicians had a desire to develop ties with Moscow.

"Of course, there are different political powers in Armenia, but there are still prospects for Russia-Armenia cooperation, and the majority of Armenian politicians understand this fact. They would like the ties with our country to strengthen and this position is common in the republic," Novikov said.

Chairman of the Russian parliament's lower house Committee for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Leonid Kalashnikov said that Sargsyan's decision was a wise move.

"He has not clung to power, he has not engaged certain specialized agencies. This does credit to him. That's why it is needed to solve this problem within a legal framework," the lawmaker added.

According to Kalashnikov, Sargsyan will barely continue his political career, as it could cause certain conflicts, but could start doing business or working in the institutions of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) or the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

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