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Threats Posed by North Korea, Iran Dominate NPT Conference

Nations attending a U.N. conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty warn the threat of nuclear weapons use is growing and efforts toward the elimination of such arsenals must be re-doubled.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force nearly 50 years ago, has successfully prevented the widespread development of these weapons of mass destruction. But many nations worry global insecurity is eroding international commitments to disarmament.

At the opening session of the NPT conference, the United States singled out North Korea and Iran as two of the greatest threats facing the non-proliferation regime. The assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, Christopher Ford, noted that North Korea withdrew from the NPT after being caught violating the agreement’s terms. He said that while the North continued to violate legally-binding U.N. Security Council resolutions, the nonproliferation regime faced a real, but longer-term challenge from Iran.

“A country that for years unlawfully and secretly sought to develop nuclear weapons, suspended its weaponization work only when confronted by potentially dire consequences, continued to enrich uranium in violation of U.N. Security Council requirements, and retains the ability to position itself, several years hence, dangerously close to rapid weaponization,”  Ford said.

The Trump administration will decide by May 12 whether it will continue to participate in the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal that was negotiated by the five nuclear powers and the European Union.

The special European envoy for disarmament and non-proliferation, Jacek Bylica, spoke on behalf of the European Union, which he says remains committed to the Iranian deal and expects all parties to implement it in full.

“It is in our common interest to preserve a deal that strengthens the global non-proliferation regime, contributes positively to reach international peace and security and provides the international community with necessary assurances on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,”  Bylica said.

The EU envoy received strong support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been monitoring Iran’s nuclear program since 2016. It said Iran was subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime and was in compliance with its commitments under the JCPA.  

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Threats Posed by North Korea, Iran Dominate NPT Conference

Nations attending a U.N. conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty warn the threat of nuclear weapons use is growing and efforts toward the elimination of such arsenals must be re-doubled.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force nearly 50 years ago, has successfully prevented the widespread development of these weapons of mass destruction. But many nations worry global insecurity is eroding international commitments to disarmament.

At the opening session of the NPT conference, the United States singled out North Korea and Iran as two of the greatest threats facing the non-proliferation regime. The assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, Christopher Ford, noted that North Korea withdrew from the NPT after being caught violating the agreement’s terms. He said that while the North continued to violate legally-binding U.N. Security Council resolutions, the nonproliferation regime faced a real, but longer-term challenge from Iran.

“A country that for years unlawfully and secretly sought to develop nuclear weapons, suspended its weaponization work only when confronted by potentially dire consequences, continued to enrich uranium in violation of U.N. Security Council requirements, and retains the ability to position itself, several years hence, dangerously close to rapid weaponization,”  Ford said.

The Trump administration will decide by May 12 whether it will continue to participate in the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal that was negotiated by the five nuclear powers and the European Union.

The special European envoy for disarmament and non-proliferation, Jacek Bylica, spoke on behalf of the European Union, which he says remains committed to the Iranian deal and expects all parties to implement it in full.

“It is in our common interest to preserve a deal that strengthens the global non-proliferation regime, contributes positively to reach international peace and security and provides the international community with necessary assurances on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,”  Bylica said.

The EU envoy received strong support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been monitoring Iran’s nuclear program since 2016. It said Iran was subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime and was in compliance with its commitments under the JCPA.  

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In Turkey, Remembrance of 1915 Mass Killings of Armenians Amid Genocide Debate

In Turkey, commemorations are being held to mark the mass killings of Armenians during World War I by Ottoman Turks. The killings, recognized as genocide by much of the international community, remains contentious, with Ankara strenuously claiming the deaths were the result of a civil war in which Turks also perished.

Turkish-Armenian groups, along with nongovernmental organizations mainly in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, are organizing a series of events to remember the deaths. 

On Tuesday, public ceremonies are planned outside some of the homes of 270 Armenian intellectuals, religious and civic leaders arrested in Istanbul on April 24, 1915. The detentions marked the start of the mass deportations and killings of Armenians across Turkey. As many as one-and-a-half million people were killed as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, according to a version of events accepted by many historians.

Until Turkey’s ruling AK Party came to power in 2002, public discussion challenging the state’s official version of events was forbidden. 

“There has been some tolerance by the state, they were not participating themselves, but they were allowing the commemorations, publications of books, articles and the gatherings and so on,” said political scientist Cengiz Aktar. “But this progress has come to a halt, because of the very restrictive environment of free speech,” Aktar added, referring to the current emergency rule, introduced after a failed 2016 coup.

Analysts say campaigners for the recognition of the killings as a genocide are focusing their attention on U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The only thing that might happen is Trump may pronounce the ‘G’ [genocide] word; we will see. It may happen; there are some indications Trump may pronounce it,” said Aktar. “The American administration, the Senate, House of Representatives, are getting more and more nervous with Turkey; the president may come with the ‘G’ word tomorrow.”

On April 24, U.S. presidents deliver a speech to mark the mass killings of Armenians. Last year Trump, like his recent predecessors, sidestepped using the word genocide, instead, using the Armenian phrase, “Meds Yeghern,” meaning great calamity. This month, more than 100 members of the U.S. Congress wrote to Trump, calling on the president to recognize the mass killings as genocide.

U.S., Turkish relations

Turkey has angered the U.S. recently over several issues, including Syria, the imprisonment of U.S. citizens and local employees of diplomatic missions, and Ankara’s deepening ties with Moscow. 

“Compared to years past, Turkey’s ability to influence Congress [against using the word genocide] has been vastly diminished, that is certainly true,” said analyst Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar of Brussels-based Carnegie Europe.

Ulgen suggests Ankara will be banking on Trump’s sensitivity toward Turkey.

“There is a sizable constituency on the part of the executive, including President Trump, who believes in and understands the value of Turkey,” he said. “So, there are certainly efforts that want to re-establish a sense of balance and direction to the bilateral relationship.”

If Trump were to use the word genocide, observers suggest Erdogan will seize on the occasion to whip up nationalist sentiment and anti-Americanism as Turkey prepares for presidential and general elections in June. 

Ankara, however, is likely to be more concerned by any move by Congress to legislate the recognition of an Armenian genocide.

“The Congress resolution is much more binding than a presidential statement,” said political scientist Aktar. “Ankara will be more concerned and irritated, and up until now Congress never passed a resolution. But with the anti-Turkish feelings, it may pass; there is something rumored to be in the pipeline, but not now.”

Growing recognition

In recent years, growing numbers of countries have recognized the Armenian mass killings as a genocide. Given the growing tide of recognition, experts suggest Ankara’s reaction has become more restrained.

“The Dutch parliament recently passed an [Armenian genocide] resolution; all we saw were a couple of strong words and nothing else,” said international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Turkey’s government has decided that it is better to keep calm rather than raise hell every single time something important or unimportant happens. It may very well be the same as with the Americans; but, the American acceptance of a genocide is significantly more important than any other country,” Ozel added.

If Congress recognized the Armenian killings as genocide, experts suggest the move could open the door to numerous legal cases against Turkey by relatives of those killed. Genocide does not have a legal statute of limitations. Even though Ankara lost many of its allies in Washington, it may still retain some support.

“The Turkish side tried to keep relations with the Jewish or pro-Israeli lobbies pretty good,” Ozel said. “Every time the president [Erdogan] visited the United States, he made sure that he met with the Jewish organizations, so maybe they are on board, and if they are on board, you have a fighting chance.”

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In Turkey, Remembrance of 1915 Mass Killings of Armenians Amid Genocide Debate

In Turkey, commemorations are being held to mark the mass killings of Armenians during World War I by Ottoman Turks. The killings, recognized as genocide by much of the international community, remains contentious, with Ankara strenuously claiming the deaths were the result of a civil war in which Turks also perished.

Turkish-Armenian groups, along with nongovernmental organizations mainly in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, are organizing a series of events to remember the deaths. 

On Tuesday, public ceremonies are planned outside some of the homes of 270 Armenian intellectuals, religious and civic leaders arrested in Istanbul on April 24, 1915. The detentions marked the start of the mass deportations and killings of Armenians across Turkey. As many as one-and-a-half million people were killed as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, according to a version of events accepted by many historians.

Until Turkey’s ruling AK Party came to power in 2002, public discussion challenging the state’s official version of events was forbidden. 

“There has been some tolerance by the state, they were not participating themselves, but they were allowing the commemorations, publications of books, articles and the gatherings and so on,” said political scientist Cengiz Aktar. “But this progress has come to a halt, because of the very restrictive environment of free speech,” Aktar added, referring to the current emergency rule, introduced after a failed 2016 coup.

Analysts say campaigners for the recognition of the killings as a genocide are focusing their attention on U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The only thing that might happen is Trump may pronounce the ‘G’ [genocide] word; we will see. It may happen; there are some indications Trump may pronounce it,” said Aktar. “The American administration, the Senate, House of Representatives, are getting more and more nervous with Turkey; the president may come with the ‘G’ word tomorrow.”

On April 24, U.S. presidents deliver a speech to mark the mass killings of Armenians. Last year Trump, like his recent predecessors, sidestepped using the word genocide, instead, using the Armenian phrase, “Meds Yeghern,” meaning great calamity. This month, more than 100 members of the U.S. Congress wrote to Trump, calling on the president to recognize the mass killings as genocide.

U.S., Turkish relations

Turkey has angered the U.S. recently over several issues, including Syria, the imprisonment of U.S. citizens and local employees of diplomatic missions, and Ankara’s deepening ties with Moscow. 

“Compared to years past, Turkey’s ability to influence Congress [against using the word genocide] has been vastly diminished, that is certainly true,” said analyst Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar of Brussels-based Carnegie Europe.

Ulgen suggests Ankara will be banking on Trump’s sensitivity toward Turkey.

“There is a sizable constituency on the part of the executive, including President Trump, who believes in and understands the value of Turkey,” he said. “So, there are certainly efforts that want to re-establish a sense of balance and direction to the bilateral relationship.”

If Trump were to use the word genocide, observers suggest Erdogan will seize on the occasion to whip up nationalist sentiment and anti-Americanism as Turkey prepares for presidential and general elections in June. 

Ankara, however, is likely to be more concerned by any move by Congress to legislate the recognition of an Armenian genocide.

“The Congress resolution is much more binding than a presidential statement,” said political scientist Aktar. “Ankara will be more concerned and irritated, and up until now Congress never passed a resolution. But with the anti-Turkish feelings, it may pass; there is something rumored to be in the pipeline, but not now.”

Growing recognition

In recent years, growing numbers of countries have recognized the Armenian mass killings as a genocide. Given the growing tide of recognition, experts suggest Ankara’s reaction has become more restrained.

“The Dutch parliament recently passed an [Armenian genocide] resolution; all we saw were a couple of strong words and nothing else,” said international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Turkey’s government has decided that it is better to keep calm rather than raise hell every single time something important or unimportant happens. It may very well be the same as with the Americans; but, the American acceptance of a genocide is significantly more important than any other country,” Ozel added.

If Congress recognized the Armenian killings as genocide, experts suggest the move could open the door to numerous legal cases against Turkey by relatives of those killed. Genocide does not have a legal statute of limitations. Even though Ankara lost many of its allies in Washington, it may still retain some support.

“The Turkish side tried to keep relations with the Jewish or pro-Israeli lobbies pretty good,” Ozel said. “Every time the president [Erdogan] visited the United States, he made sure that he met with the Jewish organizations, so maybe they are on board, and if they are on board, you have a fighting chance.”

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Pakistan, Russia Hold High-Level Security Talks

Russia and Pakistan have held their first national security advisers-level bilateral talks in Moscow, focusing on prospects for closer cooperation in defense, space, cyber security, nuclear, intelligence-sharing as well as trade.

Pakistani National Security Adviser, Nasser Janjua, and Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, led their respective delegations in the two-day meeting that ended on Monday.

A statement released after their meeting said the Pakistani delegation included senior military, civilian, intelligence and officials from the Strategic Plans Division, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons and missiles program.

The two sides expressed satisfaction at “the positive trajectory and progression” of mutual relationship at bilateral and multilateral levels, the statement noted.

Monday’s wide-ranging high-level discussions happened as a Russian business delegation is due to arrive in Pakistan later this week to explore investment opportunities in various sectors, including banking, railways and telecommunications, government and diplomatic sources told VOA.

The turnaround in bilateral relations comes as Islamabad’s decades-old, but often mistrusted, relations with Washington have again deteriorated in recent years.

The tensions primarily stem from allegations Pakistani security institutions harbor and support Taliban insurgents waging a deadly war on Afghan and U.S.-led international forces in the neighboring country.

Pakistan rejects the charges and insists Washington is scapegoating the country in the wake of deteriorating Afghan security.

Declining U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan was compounded this year by the Trump administration’s decision to also suspend military assistance until the country takes decisive action against militant sanctuaries on its territory.Last week, the U.S. announced new travel restrictions for Pakistani diplomats working in the United States.

Analysts say as the United States appears to be cooling its relations with Pakistan, regional powers like Russia and traditional ally China are courting the country.

“Russians have overcome bitterness of Afghan war days. They see U.S. interest in Pakistan is waning and Islamabad is looking for strategic alternatives,” said Syed Talat Hussain, senior newspaper columnist and television political talk show host.

Beijing and Moscow are “filling the power vacuum” as they try to “enlarge” their influence in Asia, Hussain noted.

“They [Russians] see Islamabad cash-strapped and investment-hungry and its army trying to come out of Washington’s embrace,” he said.

Pakistan sided with the U.S.-backed Afghan armed resistance of the 1980s that forced the Soviet occupation forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.

In a recent interview with VOA, Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir said Islamabad and Moscow have been able to “transcend” their history of mistrust, leading to improved mutual ties.

“It is a beginning because, of course, that history of mistrust and essentially standing on two opposite sides is there; but, both countries, because of many geo-strategic reasons, now find it a more optimal path to be cooperating with each other,” noted Dastgir.

The bilateral re-engagement between Islamabad and Moscow gained traction in 2014 when the two signed a defense cooperation framework agreement during the Russian defense minister’s landmark visit to Pakistan.

Under the agreement, Pakistan has purchased four Russian Mi35 combat helicopters to bolster counterterrorism efforts. The delivery of more aircraft is in the works, along with other military hardware.

Pakistani and Russian special forces conducted joint military exercises in 2016 and 2017, and plan to do so again this year, focusing on how to counter terrorism in the region.

Russia and Pakistan are also in talks for potential multi-billion-dollar energy deals, while Moscow will also build a gas pipeline linking the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore.

China has invested an unprecedented $19 billion in Pakistan in the past three years to help the neighboring country build roads, railways, power plants, and ports.

Beijing has pledged to invest an estimated $62 billion by 2030 under the massive cooperation deal known as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC and declared as the flagship project of BRI.

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Pakistan, Russia Hold High-Level Security Talks

Russia and Pakistan have held their first national security advisers-level bilateral talks in Moscow, focusing on prospects for closer cooperation in defense, space, cyber security, nuclear, intelligence-sharing as well as trade.

Pakistani National Security Adviser, Nasser Janjua, and Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, led their respective delegations in the two-day meeting that ended on Monday.

A statement released after their meeting said the Pakistani delegation included senior military, civilian, intelligence and officials from the Strategic Plans Division, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons and missiles program.

The two sides expressed satisfaction at “the positive trajectory and progression” of mutual relationship at bilateral and multilateral levels, the statement noted.

Monday’s wide-ranging high-level discussions happened as a Russian business delegation is due to arrive in Pakistan later this week to explore investment opportunities in various sectors, including banking, railways and telecommunications, government and diplomatic sources told VOA.

The turnaround in bilateral relations comes as Islamabad’s decades-old, but often mistrusted, relations with Washington have again deteriorated in recent years.

The tensions primarily stem from allegations Pakistani security institutions harbor and support Taliban insurgents waging a deadly war on Afghan and U.S.-led international forces in the neighboring country.

Pakistan rejects the charges and insists Washington is scapegoating the country in the wake of deteriorating Afghan security.

Declining U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan was compounded this year by the Trump administration’s decision to also suspend military assistance until the country takes decisive action against militant sanctuaries on its territory.Last week, the U.S. announced new travel restrictions for Pakistani diplomats working in the United States.

Analysts say as the United States appears to be cooling its relations with Pakistan, regional powers like Russia and traditional ally China are courting the country.

“Russians have overcome bitterness of Afghan war days. They see U.S. interest in Pakistan is waning and Islamabad is looking for strategic alternatives,” said Syed Talat Hussain, senior newspaper columnist and television political talk show host.

Beijing and Moscow are “filling the power vacuum” as they try to “enlarge” their influence in Asia, Hussain noted.

“They [Russians] see Islamabad cash-strapped and investment-hungry and its army trying to come out of Washington’s embrace,” he said.

Pakistan sided with the U.S.-backed Afghan armed resistance of the 1980s that forced the Soviet occupation forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.

In a recent interview with VOA, Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir said Islamabad and Moscow have been able to “transcend” their history of mistrust, leading to improved mutual ties.

“It is a beginning because, of course, that history of mistrust and essentially standing on two opposite sides is there; but, both countries, because of many geo-strategic reasons, now find it a more optimal path to be cooperating with each other,” noted Dastgir.

The bilateral re-engagement between Islamabad and Moscow gained traction in 2014 when the two signed a defense cooperation framework agreement during the Russian defense minister’s landmark visit to Pakistan.

Under the agreement, Pakistan has purchased four Russian Mi35 combat helicopters to bolster counterterrorism efforts. The delivery of more aircraft is in the works, along with other military hardware.

Pakistani and Russian special forces conducted joint military exercises in 2016 and 2017, and plan to do so again this year, focusing on how to counter terrorism in the region.

Russia and Pakistan are also in talks for potential multi-billion-dollar energy deals, while Moscow will also build a gas pipeline linking the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore.

China has invested an unprecedented $19 billion in Pakistan in the past three years to help the neighboring country build roads, railways, power plants, and ports.

Beijing has pledged to invest an estimated $62 billion by 2030 under the massive cooperation deal known as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC and declared as the flagship project of BRI.

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France’s Macron: US Role in Syria Vital

French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to the United States for a state visit with President Donald Trump, looking to convince him of the need to keep a U.S. presence in Syria even after the defeat of Islamic State terrorists.

Ahead of his arrival in Washington Monday, Macron told Fox News during an interview at the Elysee Palace in Paris, “We will have to build a new Syria after war. That’s why I think the U.S. role is very important.”

He described the U.S. as “a player of last resorts for peace and multilateralism.”

Trump has said he wants to pull the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as soon as possible, even as a week ago he ordered the U.S. military to join France and Britain in launching a barrage of missiles targeting Syrian chemical weapons facilities in response to a suspected Syrian gas attack. Trump’s planned troop withdrawal comes after the fall of Raqqa, IS’s self-declared capital of its religious caliphate in northern Syria.

“I’m going to be very blunt,” Macron said in the interview. “If we leave … will we leave the floor to the Iranian regime and [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad? They will prepare a new war.”

He said the U.S. and France are allied but that “even Russia and Turkey will have a very important role to play to create this new Syria and ensure the Syrian people decide for the future.”

Macron is set to arrive in Washington on Monday for three days of meetings, a speech in English to Congress, social events and Trump’s first state dinner.

His visit is occurring as an international chemical weapons monitoring group said its team of inspectors has collected samples at the site of the alleged gas attack two weeks ago in the Syrian town of Douma.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said a report based on the findings and other information gathered by the team will be drafted after the samples are analyzed by designated laboratories.

The group added it will “evaluate the situation and consider future steps, including another possible visit to Douma.”

The fact-finding team’s attempts to enter the town were initially postponed for several days due to a series of security-related setbacks.

Emergency responders said at least 40 people were killed in the suspected April 7 gas attack, which the U.S. and its allies blamed on the Assad regime.

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons, a violation of international law, and invited inspectors to investigate.

They arrived in Syria on April 14, the same day the U.S., Britain and France launched missiles targeting three chemical weapons facilities in Syria.

Ken Ward, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, claimed on April 16 the Russians had already visited the site of the chemical weapons attack and “may have tampered with it,” a charge Moscow rejected.

On April 9, Moscow’s U.N. ambassador told the U.N. Security Council that Russian experts had visited the site, collected soil samples, interviewed witnesses and medical personnel, and determined no chemical weapons attack had taken place.

U.S. military officials have said the airstrikes were designed to send a powerful message to Syria and its backers, showing that the United States, Britain and France could slice through the nation’s air defense systems at will.

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Turkey Opposition OKs Party Switch in Challenge to Erdogan

More than a dozen Turkish opposition lawmakers switched parties Sunday in a show of solidarity as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rivals scramble to challenge him in a surprise snap election that could solidify his rule.

A year ago, Erdogan narrowly won a referendum to change Turkey’s form of government to an executive presidency, abolishing the office of the prime minister and giving the president more powers. The change will take effect after the next elections.

 

The snap elections, called for June, caught Turkey off guard and come as the opposition is in disarray as it struggles to put forward candidates and campaign plans. The elections were initially supposed to take place in November 2019.

 

Officials from the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, said 15 of its lawmakers would join the Iyi Party. The CHP, which is the main opposition party, said the decision was borne out of “democratic disposition.”

 

The center-right Iyi Party, established last fall, has been facing eligibility issues before the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, including not having enough seats in parliament.

 

The Iyi Party, which means “Good Party,” now has 20 lawmakers in parliament, enough to form a political group, satisfying an eligibility requirement. It wasn’t immediately clear if they would be asked to fulfill other requirements, including establishing organizations in half of Turkey’s provinces and completing its general congress, all to be completed six months before voting day.

 

But the party said it had already fulfilled those requirements as well.

 

That timing has posed a challenge after Erdogan agreed Wednesday to hold the elections more than a year ahead of schedule.

 

Iyi Party founder Meral Aksener, a former interior minister, is considered a serious contender against Erdogan and has announced her candidacy. She defected from Turkey’s main nationalist party allied with Erdogan, whose leader Devlet Bahceli called for the early elections.

 

Aksener, 61, can run for the presidency even without her party, if she can get 100,000 signatures from the public.

 

Turkey’s electoral board has yet to announce the presidential candidates and parties eligible to run.

 

 

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Armenian Opposition Leader Arrested

Armenia’s opposition leader was arrested Sunday, hours after the country’s prime minister walked out of a televised meeting between the two.

Opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan was arrested Sunday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, as he participated in one of the demonstrations that began last week when parliament elected Serzh Sargsyan prime minister after a decade serving as president.

Critics see the move as an attempt by Sargsyan to hold on to power.

Pashinyan has said he would like the demonstrations to be the “start of a peaceful velvet revolution,” a reference to the protests in 1989 that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

About 15,000 people began the rallies Wednesday at Yerevan’s central Republic Square, with some holding posters that read “Make a step and reject Serzh.”  

The meeting Sunday between Sargsyan and Pashinyan was held with the aim of ending continuing anti-government protests.  Sargsyan walked out of the meeting when Pashinyan told him that he came to discuss his resignation, to which the prime minister responded, “This is blackmail.”

Sargsyan was nearing the end of his second and final term as president earlier this year when the country moved from a presidential to parliamentary system, empowering the position of the prime minister, which does not face term limits.  In April, Armenia’s ruling party moved to appoint Sargsyan as prime minister.

 

 

 

 

About 15,000 people began the rallies Wednesday at Yerevan’s central Republic Square, with some holding posters that read “Make a step and reject Serzh.”

 

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Talks in Armenia Break Down

A televised meeting between Armenia’s prime minister and an opposition leader lasted only a few minutes Sunday.

The meeting between Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and opposition activist Nikol Pashinyan was held with the aim of ending continuing anti-government protests. The demonstrations began last week when parliament elected Sargsyan prime minister after a decade serving as president.

Opponents of Sargsyan see the move as an attempt by him and his supporters to hold on to power.

Pashinyan told the prime minister, “I came here to discuss your resignation.”

The prime minister said, “This is blackmail,” and walked out.

Pashinyan has said he would like the demonstrations to be the “start of a peaceful velvet revolution,” a reference to the peaceful demonstrations in 1989 that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

Later Sunday, Armenian police said Pashinyan was “forcibly taken” from a protest rally. The police said in a statement, “Despite repeated calls to stop illegal rallies, Pashinyan continued leading a demonstration” in Yerevan, the capital. The statement said that two opposition lawmakers were also “forcibly” removed as riot police dispersed the rally.

About 15,000 people began the rallies Wednesday at Yerevan’s central Republic Square, with some holding posters that read “Make a step and reject Serzh.”