YEREVAN (AFP, REUTERS ) - Armenia has detained anti-government protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, just hours after Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian stormed out of talks with him on the tenth day of protests against his rule.
Mr Pashinyan and two other opposition MPs were arrested as they were committing “socially dangerous acts”, the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement on Sunday (April 22).
Armenian police earlier denied a report by an opposition MP that said Pashinyan had been arrested.
Protesters accuse Mr Sarksyan of clinging to power after he was appointed premier this month, after 10 years as president. Tens of thousands of opponents have marched through the capital Yerevan, blocking streets in the city centre and staging sit-ins.
Earlier in the day, Mr Sarkisian walked out of a televised meeting with Mr Pashinyan shortly after it began, denouncing the opposition’s “blackmail”.
“I came here to discuss your resignation,” Mr Pashinyan, the leader of the opposition Civil Contract party, had told the prime minister in front of the cameras.
“This is not a dialogue, this is blackmail, I only can advise you to return to a legal framework... otherwise you will bear the responsibility,” Mr Sarkisian replied.
He also said his opponents “did not learn the lesson of March 1”, referring to a protest rally after his re-election in 2008 when 10 people were killed in clashes with police.
“You don’t understand the situation in Armenia. The power is now in people’s hands,” said Mr Pashinyan.
“A party that scored eight percent in (parliamentary) elections can’t speak on behalf of the people,” Mr Sarkisian said before walking out of the meeting room in Yerevan’s Marriott hotel.
As an MP, Mr Pashinyan is protected by parliamentary immunity and cannot be arrested without the approval of lawmakers, in accordance with the Armenian constitution.
Riot police using stun grenades clashed with demonstrators at the march led by Mr Pashinyan in Yerevan’s Erebuni suburb. It came shortly after Mr Sarkisian walked out of talks with the protest leader.
Opposition supporters have criticised the 63-year-old leader over poverty, corruption and the influence of powerful oligarchs.
Mr Pashinyan had earlier announced the “start of a peaceful velvet revolution” in the landlocked South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million people.
He called for a nationwide campaign of “civil disobedience,” urging civil servants “to stop obeying Mr Sarkisian”.
Parliament voted last Tuesday (April 17) to allow Mr Sarksyan to become premier, who took up the new position after stepping down from the presidency after serving two five-year terms.
Under a revised constitution approved in a 2015 referendum, most state powers in the small, ex-Soviet state have shifted to the prime minister while the presidency has become a largely ceremonial post.
Mr Pashinyan, who has been leading the protests, has insisted that Mr Sarkisian should resign as prime minister.