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Armenia’s prime minister resigns after anti-government protests

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YEREVAN — Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned on Monday, saying he wanted “peace and harmony” after more than a week of anti-government protests sparked by his attempts to retain control on the levers of state power.

“Pashinyan was right. I was wrong,” Sargsyan said in a statement on his website, a reference to protest leader Nikol Pashinyan.

Pashinyan, a federal parliament member who was detained at the weekend, was released on Monday with fellow protesters.

Sargsyan previously served as the former Soviet republic’s president for a decade, until he reached his term limit this year.

Seventy-seven members of parliament voted last week in favour of Sargsyan becoming prime minister; only 17 opposed.

Sargsyan had been out of the leadership for only a week and a half.

Before Sargsyan switched to the prime minister’s job, the constitution was amended to increase that office’s powers.

On Monday, he said his resignation was to fulfil the demands of the street protests.

Former prime minister Karen Karapetyan has resumed the post for the interim, state media reported.

Protesters led by Pashinyan have blocked main streets in the capital, Yerevan, during the past week as they contested what opposition politicians have denounced as an unfair retention of power.

An estimated 15,000 protesters gathered at a major square last week as Sargsyan was installed as prime minister. About 40,000 rallied on Saturday.

About 300 protesters, including Pashinyan, were detained on Sunday, the 10th consecutive day of the protests.

Witnesses have said authorities used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse some of the crowds.

Protesters have accused Sargsyan of perpetuating corruption, cronyism and economic stagnation.

The protests were expected to continue despite Sargsyan’s resignation as the opposition seeks more power.

“Street closure will be our instrument,” Pashinyan wrote Monday on Twitter.

He earlier accused Sargsyan of “trying to create a fake state, a fake president, a fake prime minister, a fake opposition and a fake nation.”

The protests have been the largest in a former Soviet republic since those that led to the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president four years ago.

Armenia has a close relationship with Russia, which has acted as a peacemaker in Armenia’s conflict with Azerbaijan regarding the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The region, which comprises about 4,500 square kilometres within predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan, is controlled by Christian Armenian separatists.

Landlocked Armenia’s gross domestic product is less than a third of that of neighbouring Azerbaijan, another former Soviet republic, on the Black Sea.

Sargsyan referenced the conflict in his call for unity among Armenians.

“I am addressing our courageous soldiers and officers who are standing at the border. I am addressing my brothers-in-arms,” he said in the statement.

Russia praised the “great Armenian people,” who have been able to “maintain respect for each other despite categorical disagreements

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