Armenian policemen detain an opposition supporter during a rally in central Yerevan on April 22, 2018, held to protest former president’s election as prime minister. Riot police using stun grenades clashed with demonstrators during a march to denounce President’s shift to a premier’s post in Yerevan’s suburban district of Erebuni on April 22, 2018 . / AFP PHOTO / Vano SHLAMOV
Hundreds of opposition supporters took to the streets of Armenia’s capital Monday amid rising political turmoil as the whereabouts of the protest leader remained unclear a day after he was detained.
On the eleventh day of the protests in the ex-Soviet country, young men in small groups briefly blocked roads and shouted slogans such as “Join us!” and “Victory” and the name of protest leader Nikol Pashinyan as drivers beeped their horns in support.
Hundreds of students, some medical students in white coats, also marched arm-in-arm through the streets, holding Armenian flags.
Tens of thousands also rallied in the capital of Yerevan over the weekend to protest the rule of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the country’s former president.
The whereabouts of protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, a parliamentary lawmaker, were unclear after he was detained on Sunday.
His lawyer Rustam Badasyan wrote on Facebook: “There is no answer to the question where he is.”
As a lawmaker, Pashinyan is protected by parliamentary immunity and cannot be arrested without the approval of fellow MPs.
The speaker of the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, met Pashinyan and the other detained politicians overnight, however, the parliament’s spokesman told AFP, without giving details.
The speaker Ara Babloyan was quoted as saying that he urged Pashinyan and the others “to take part in real talks.”
Pashinyan and two other opposition politicians “were detained as they were committing socially dangerous acts”, the prosecutor general’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
Sarkisian earlier on Sunday stormed out of tense televised talks with Pashinyan, the leader of the Civil Contract Party, accusing him of “blackmail.”
Pashinyan last week announced the “start of a peaceful velvet revolution” in the landlocked country of 2.9 million people.
Hundreds of people were detained at protest rallies held across Yerevan on Sunday, while on Monday the Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said that 26 had been detained on suspicion of “hooliganism” and use of violence against police.
Sarkisian was elected prime minister by lawmakers last week under a new parliamentary system of government that transfers power from the presidency to the premier, while the president becomes largely a ceremonial role.
Sarkisian, a shrewd former military officer, was first elected as president of the impoverished Moscow-allied country in 2008.
After that poll, 10 people died in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.
He was reelected in 2013, with his second and final term ending April 9.