Armenia’s ex-president set to keep power as opposition blocks government buildings

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People take part in a protest against the appointment of former Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian as Prime Minister in Yerevan on April 14, 2018. Armenia's Serzh Sarkisian was on April 11 set to become the country's prime minister as the ruling party announced his nomination for the premiership, days after he stepped down as president. / AFP PHOTO / Karen MINASYAN

Opposition demonstrators blockaded government buildings in Armenia’s capital Tuesday as parliament was set to confirm the pro-Moscow former president as the real power in the country.

Parliament is expected to elect ex-president Serzh Sarkisian as prime minister under a new parliamentary system of government that will allow the 63-year-old to maintain his chokehold on the country.

The ruling party pressed ahead with the vote despite opposition rallies that saw several dozen protesters hurt in clashes with police in the capital Yerevan on Monday.

“I proclaim today the start of a peaceful velvet revolution in Armenia,” opposition leader Nikol Pashinian told a rally Yerevan, calling on supporters to “paralyse the work of all government agencies.”

Protesters blockaded the entrances to government buildings housing the foreign ministry and the central bank, among others, and rallies were also held in the provincial towns of Gyumri and Vanadzor.

The opposition says the new parliamentary system of government will allow Sarkisian to maintain huge influence.

Sarkisian ended his second and final presidential term last week.

“I am standing here today as a leader of the party which can ensure a harmonious cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of power,” he told lawmakers ahead of the vote.

A shrewd former military officer, Sarkisian has been in charge of the landlocked South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million since winning a presidential vote in 2008.

The country’s new figurehead president, Armen Sarkisian, was sworn in last week but his powers will be weaker under the new system of government.

The two men are not related.

The rallies began on Friday when more than 4,000 people took part.

Police used stun grenades on Monday as thousands took to the streets of Yerevan.

Authorities said 46 people including six police and opposition leader Pashinian sought medical help.