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Paris Cleans Up After Latest Riot; Nearly 1,800 Arrested

Nearly 1,800 people were arrested Saturday across France in the latest round of “yellow vest” protests.

Nationwide, the Interior Ministry says some 136,000 people rallied against France’s high-cost of living. Protesters also expressed their dismay with the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

Protests were mounted in a number of cities besides Paris, including Marseilles, Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse.

The ministry said Sunday 1,723 people were arrested nationwide, with 1,220 of them ordered held in custody.

Parisian police said they made 1,082 arrests Saturday, a sharp increase from last week’s 412 arrests.

Meanwhile, tourist destinations, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, reopened and workers cleaned up broken glass Sunday. 

The man who unleashed the anger, President Emmanuel Macron, broke his silence to tweet his appreciation for the police overnight, but pressure mounted on him to propose new solutions to calm the anger dividing France.

On Saturday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said violent outbreaks in Paris were “under control” despite ongoing disorderly acts he declared “totally unacceptable.”

French police supported by armored vehicles fired tear gas at yellow-vested protesters on the Champs Elysees.

Castaner estimated 10,000 demonstrators had taken to Parisian streets.

He said 135 people had been injured, including 17 police officers.

France closed the Eiffel Tower and other tourist landmarks and mobilized tens of thousands of security forces for the fourth week of violent demonstrations.

Many shops in Paris were boarded up before Saturday’s protests to avoid being smashed or looted, and police cordoned off many of the city’s broad boulevards.

Despite what Castaner said were “exceptional” security measures, protesters still smashed store windows and clashed with police.

More than 89,000 police were deployed nationwide, an increase from 65,000 last weekend.

Police in central Paris removed any materials from the streets that could be used as weapons or projectiles during the demonstrations, including street furniture at outdoor cafes.

Macron made an unannounced visit Friday night to a group of anti-riot security officers outside Paris to thank them for their work.

The protests erupted in November over a fuel tax increase, which was part of Macron’s plan to combat global warming.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called for new talks Saturday with representatives of the “yellow vest” movement. He vowed the government would address their concerns over rising living costs.

“The president will speak, and will propose measures that will feed this dialogue,” Philippe said in a televised statement.

 

WATCH: Clashes and Hundreds Detained in France in ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday that the Paris Agreement, a global effort to reduce global warming beginning in 2020, “isn’t working out so well for Paris” and that “People do not want to pay large sums of money … in order to protect the environment.”

Since the unrest began in November, four people have been killed in protest-related accidents.

While Macron has since abandoned the fuel tax hike, protesters have made new demands to address other economic issues hurting workers, retirees and students.

Government officials are concerned the repeated weekly violence could weaken the economy and raise doubts about the government’s survival.

Officials are also concerned about far-right, anarchist and anti-capitalist groups like Black Bloc that have attached themselves to the “yellow vest” movement.

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World Marks Anti-Corruption Day

Corruption costs the world economy $2.6 trillion each year, according to the United Nations, which is marking International Anti-Corruption Day on Sunday.

“Corruption is a serious crime that can undermine social and economic development in all societies. No country, region or community is immune,” the United Nations said.

The cost of $2.6 trillion represents more than 5 percent of global GDP.

The world body said that $1 trillion of the money stolen annually through corruption is in the form of bribes.

Patricia Moreira, the managing director of Transparency International, told VOA that about a quarter of the world’s population has paid a bribe when trying to access a public service over the past year, according to data from the Global Corruption Barometer.

Moreira said it is important to have such a day as International Anti-Corruption Day because it provides “a really tremendous opportunity to focus attention precisely on the challenge that is posed by corruption around the world.”

​Anti-corruption commitments

To mark the day, the United States called on all countries to implement their international anti-corruption commitments including through the U.N. Convention against Corruption.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said that corruption facilitates crime and terrorism, as well as undermines economic growth, the rule of law and democracy.

“Ultimately, it endangers our national security. That is why, as we look ahead to International Anticorruption Day on Dec. 9, we pledge to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide,” the statement said.

Moreira said that data about worldwide corruption can make the phenomena understandable but still not necessarily “close to our lives.” For that, we need to hear everyday stories about people impacted by corruption and understand that it “is about our daily lives,” she added.

She said those most impacted by corruption are “the most vulnerable people — so it’s usually women, it’s usually poor people, the most marginalized people in the world.”

The United Nations Development Program notes that in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.

What can be done to fight corruption?

The United Nations designated Dec. 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003, coinciding with the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption by the U.N. General Assembly.

The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about corruption and put pressure on governments to take action against it.

Tackling the issue

Moreira said to fight corruption effectively it must be tackled from different angles. For example, she said that while it is important to have the right legislation in place to curb corruption, governments must also have mechanisms to enforce that legislation. She said those who engage in corruption must be held accountable.

“Fighting corruption is about providing people with a more sustainable world, with a world where social justice is something more of our reality than what it has been until today,” she said.

Moreira said change must come from a joint effort from governments, public institutions, the private sector and civil society.

The U.S. Statement Department said in its Friday statement that it pledges “to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide.”

It noted that the United States, through the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, helps partner nations “build transparent, accountable institutions and strengthen criminal justice systems that hold the corrupt accountable.”

Moreira said that it is important for the world to see that there are results to the fight against corruption.

“Then we are showing the world with specific examples that we can fight against corruption, [that] yes there are results. And if we work together, then it is something not just that we would wish for, but actually something that can be translated into specific results and changes to the world,” she said.

VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this report.

 

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Armenia Holds Snap Election for Parliament

Armenians are casting their votes in early parliamentary elections Sunday.

Reformist leader Nikol Pashinian, 43, swept to power in May after weeks of anti-government protests that forced the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, who was also a former president of Armenia.

Sargsyan’s ruling Republican Party, however, blocked Pashinian’s bid to become prime minister, resulting in more protests. The Republican Party then decided to back Pashinian for what it said was the good of the nation.

Pashinian became prime minister, but recently stepped down so parliament could be dissolved for the early election. He remains Armenia’s acting prime minister.

Analysts expect him to be re-instated in office, with his My Step alliance in control of parliament.

Pashinian, a former newspaper editor who had been imprisoned for his activism, has promised to maintain close ties with Russia and fight corruption. He has also pledged to “step up cooperation with the United States and European Union.”

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Clashes and Hundreds Detained in France Amid New "Yellow Vest’ Protests Saturday

In France, police clashed with protesters, as tens of thousands of ‘yellow vest’ demonstrators took to the streets Saturday for the fourth consecutive weekend. Reports say at least 135 people have been injured.

French authorities deployed nearly 90,000 police across the country, detained hundreds of people and closed major landmarks and museums out of precaution. Anti-government yellow vest rallies also took place in nearby Belgium and the Netherlands.

It’s becoming a familiar sound — and smell: teargas lobbed by riot police against so-called yellow vest protesters. Demonstrators sporting fluorescent yellow jackets were out in force again in Paris and across the country, protesting against a range of grievances, including low wages and high taxes.

Around the iconic Champs Elysees, demonstrators clashed with police, set fire to barricades and attacked stores. Armored vehicles rumbled through the streets.

Paris area janitor Jonathan Gonzales wore “Resistance Macron” scrawled on his yellow vest — referring to French President Emmanuel Macron, whose popularity has plunged to record lows.

Gonzales said France is one of the world’s richest nations, but the French people are poor because of decades of government mismanagement. He wants higher minimum wage and lower salaries for government leaders.

Other protesters brandished slogans like “Macron resign” … and “Listen to the anger of the people.” Many criticize a raft of tough reforms the government says are needed to make France more competitive. They claim the president only cares about the rich, not the poor.

The yellow vest protests began against a planned fuel tax hike, aimed to help fight climate change. But while the government has since scrapped the increase, the demonstrations continue, by a movement with no clear leadership or demands.

Protester Olivier Goldfarb says people can’t live on what they earn. The working and middle classes pay more taxes than the more affluent.”

Another protester, giving only his first name Hugo, had broader complaints.

 

“We’re protesting against a system that doesn’t work, but it’s not up to me to say we should do that or we should do that,” said Hugo. “It’s up to the professional politicians. We send a message that it doesn’t work anymore. Now do something, and do it quickly.”

Polls show public support for the yellow vests is still high, despite the violence. Senior citizen Eliane Daubigny and her husband watched the demonstrations unroll early Saturday.

Daubigny said she understood the concerns of protesters who have a hard time making ends meet. But she also knows how people live in Madagascar — and believes the French are pretty spoiled by comparison.

Many stores were shuttered around hot spots like the Champs Elysees. Others were still boarded up from last week’s rioting that cost Paris alone millions of dollars in damage. Restaurants, hotels and stores have lost business during this holiday season.

Meanwhile, thousands of other French joined a very different protest on Saturday — marching in the capital and other cities for more action to fight climate change. In some cases, yellow vests joined the demonstrations.

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Battle of Wills: Tiny Order of French Nuns Takes on Vatican

The Vatican has an unusual dilemma on its hands after nearly all the nuns in a tiny French religious order threatened to renounce their vows rather than accept the Holy See’s decision to remove their superior.

The sisters argue that the Vatican commissioners sent to replace their superior general, who is also the niece of the order’s founder, have no understanding of their way of life or spirituality. The church’s conclusion — contained in a summary of its investigation provided this week to The Associated Press — is that the Little Sisters of Marie, Mother of the Redeemer are living “under the tight grip” of an “authoritarian” superior and feel a “serious conflict of loyalty” toward her.

The standoff marks an extraordinary battle of wills between the Vatican hierarchy and the group of 39 nuns, most in their 60s and 70s, who run homes for the aged in rural western and southern France. Their threat to leave comes at a time when the Catholic Church can hardly spare them, with the number of sisters plummeting in Europe and the Americas.

The unlikely revolt had been brewing for years but erupted in 2017, when the Vatican suspended the Little Sisters’ government and ordered the superior, Mother Marie de Saint Michel, removed. The Vatican says it took action after local church investigations in 2010 and 2016 found an excessive authoritarianism in her rule and serious problems of governance.

Details of her alleged abuses of authority haven’t been revealed. But within two years of her election as superior in 2000, six sisters had left, church officials say.

“The grave acts posed by Mother Marie de Saint Michel are denounced and the sisters are called to religious and responsible behavior,” the prefect of the Vatican’s congregation for religious, Cardinal Joao Braz di Aviz, wrote the nuns in July.

By then, Braz had already appointed a commissioner and two deputies to run the order. But the Little Sisters refused to accept them and kept Saint Michel in place in the mother house.

As the standoff escalated, 34 of the 39 nuns issued an extraordinary public declaration last month saying they had no other choice but to ask to be relieved of their religious vows.

“We are not making this sacrifice lightly,” they wrote. “We wish to remain in total communion with the church but we cannot signify more clearly, or more painfully either, our incapacity in conscience to obey what we are commanded to do.”

Their plight has garnered sympathy. A French support group, the Support Association of the Little Sisters of Marie, claims to have gotten 3,900 signatures for an online petition demanding the immediate restoration of the central government of the order and removal of the commissioners.

“We are in a situation of blockage,” said Marcel Mignot, president of the support association.

The sisters downplay problems with their superior and say the real dispute is over their local bishop’s decision to split up management of their elder-care homes that had been merged in recent years. They say the bishop used his authority to impose an unjust decision on them without taking their views or the financial implications into account.

“This is about power,” Mignot said, referring to the bishop’s authority over diocesan orders.

The sisters have appealed his decision to the Vatican’s high court “so that the truth can be re-established, but Roman justice takes its time,” the sisters wrote their supporters earlier this year.

Their cherished community was founded in 1954 in Toulouse by Marie Nault, a woman who, according to legend, stopped her formal education at age 11 to work on the family farm but possessed such spirituality that she developed the stigmata — the bleeding wounds that imitate those of Christ on the cross.

Nault took the name Mere Marie de la Croix — Mother Mary of the Cross — and opened four communities in western and southern France which, in 1989, won approval from the bishop to become a diocesan institute of consecrated life.

Born in 1901, Mother Marie died in 1999 and her niece, the current ousted superior, took over a year later. She remains at the mother house in Saint-Aignan sur Roë, in western France. She had been due to step down after her term was up and a new superior was elected, but plans for the election are now in limbo, Mignot said.

The standoff with the Little Sisters comes amid a continuing free-fall in the number of nuns around the world, as elderly sisters die and fewer young ones take their place. The most recent Vatican statistics from 2016 show the number of sisters was down 10,885 from the previous year to 659,445 globally. Ten years prior, there were 753,400 nuns around the world, meaning the Catholic Church shed nearly 100,000 sisters in the span of a decade.

European nuns regularly fare the worst, seeing a decline of 8,370 sisters in 2016 on top of the previous year’s decline of 8,394, according to Vatican statistics.

The Vatican, in its conclusions about the case, said it believed that the majority of the Little Sisters “truly want to follow the Lord in a life of prayer and sacrifice.”

While lamenting the “tight grip” that the superior has over them, the Vatican’s congregation for religious orders told AP that most sisters had been kept in the dark about the management dispute over the elder-care homes — details that even the Vatican commissioners haven’t fully ascertained since they haven’t been able to access the institutes’ finances, the Vatican summary said.

In the past, the Vatican has not been afraid to impose martial law on religious orders, male or female, when they run into trouble, either for financial, disciplinary or other reasons.

St. John Paul II famously appointed his own superiors to run the Jesuits in 1981, some 200 years after Pope Clement XIV suppressed the order altogether. Pope Benedict XVI imposed a years-long process of reform on the Legion of Christ order and its lay branches after its founder was determined to be a pedophile. More recently, the Vatican named a commissioner to take over a traditionalist order of priests and nuns, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.

Nevertheless, the standoff with the Little Sisters is unusual, said Gabriella Zarri, retired professor of history and expert in women’s religious orders at the University of Florence.

“It’s serious, but it’s also serious that these nuns would do such a violent act as to threaten to leave religious life,” she said. “It’s difficult to understand, other than perhaps because of their attachment to the charism of the founder” and her niece.

Sabina Pavone, a professor of modern history at the University of Macerata, said Catholic archives — especially from Inquisition trials — are full of cases of the Vatican taking action when religious superiors assume “tyrannical” powers over their devoted followers.

While many of the cases date to the period of tremendous growth of religious orders for women in the 1800s, she added, “we shouldn’t be surprised that you find them today” as well.

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Activists Gather for Climate March in Poland

Several thousand people gathered Saturday amid a heavy police presence in southern Poland for a “March for Climate” to encourage negotiators at climate talks to set ambitious goals.

Activists from around the world gathered in the main square of the city of Katowice where delegates from almost 200 countries are holding a two-week meeting on curbing climate change.

Some of them were dressed as polar bears, some as orangutans, animals that are facing extinction from man-made global warming and deforestation.

They joined in chants of “Wake up, it’s time to save our home,” and held banners including one reading “Defend our Rights to Food, Land, Water,” as large police units and mounted police looked on.

Earlier Saturday, campaign group Climate Action Network said that one of its employees has been allowed to enter Poland after earlier being stopped by border guards citing unspecified security threats.

The group, an alliance of hundreds of organizations from around the world, said Polish authorities gave Belgium-based activist Zanna Vanrenterghem permission to continue to the U.N. climate summit in Katowice.

The Belgian ambassador in Poland, Luc Jacobs, said Polish border guards had provided him with no details about the case but confirmed that Vanrenterghem was admitted into Poland overnight.

CAN had no immediate information about 12 other activists deported or denied entry to Poland in recent days. Poland introduced temporary random identity checks ahead of the conference, arguing they were needed for security.

 

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Top Democrat: Moscow Has Closed Cyber Gap With US

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee warns the United States is being outgunned in cyberspace, already having lost its competitive advantage to Russia while China is rapidly closing in.

“When it comes to cyber, misinformation and disinformation, Russia is already our peer and in the areas of misinformation or disinformation, I believe is ahead of us,” Senator Mark Warner told an audience Friday in Washington.

“This is an effective methodology for Russia and it’s also remarkably cheap,” he added, calling for a realignment of U.S. defense spending.

Warner, calling Russia’s election meddling both an intelligence failure and a “failure of imagination,” strongly criticized the White House, key departments and fellow lawmakers for being too complacent in their responses.

As for China, Warner called Beijing’s cyber and censorship infrastructure “the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world” and warned when it comes to artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G mobile phone networks, China is “starting to outpace us on these investments by orders of magnitude.”

In contrast, the Democratic senator laid out a more aggressive approach in cyberspace, with the United States leading allies in an effort to establish clear rules and norms for behavior in cyberspace.

He also said it was imperative the U.S. articulate when and where it would respond to cyberattacks.

“Our adversaries continue to believe that there won’t be consequences for their actions,” Warner said. “For Russia and China, it’s pretty much been open season.”

Warner also delivered a stern message to social media companies.

“Major platform companies — like Twitter and Facebook, but also Reddit, YouTube and Tumblr — aren’t doing nearly enough to prevent their platforms from becoming petri dishes for Russian disinformation and propaganda,” he said. “If they don’t work with us, Congress will have to work on its own.”

The Trump administration unveiled a new National Cyber Strategy in September, calling for a more aggressive response to the growing online threat posed by other countries, terrorist groups and criminal organizations.

“We’re not just on defense,” National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters at the time. “We’re going to do a lot of things offensively, and I think our adversaries need to know that.”

Top U.S. military officials have also said their cyber teams are engaging against other countries, terrorist groups and even criminal organizations on a daily basis.

Warner on Friday praised elements of the new strategy, particularly measures that have allowed the military to respond to attacks more quickly. But, he said, on the whole it is not enough, pointing to Trump’s willingness to “kowtow” to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their Helsinki Summit over Moscow’s election interference efforts.

“No one in the Trump administration in the intel [intelligence] or defense world doesn’t acknowledge what happened in 2016,” he said. “But the fact that the head of our government still [finds] it’s hard to get those words out of his mouth, is a real problem.”

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Top Democrat: Moscow Has Closed Cyber Gap With US

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee warns the United States is being outgunned in cyberspace, already having lost its competitive advantage to Russia while China is rapidly closing in.

“When it comes to cyber, misinformation and disinformation, Russia is already our peer and in the areas of misinformation or disinformation, I believe is ahead of us,” Senator Mark Warner told an audience Friday in Washington.

“This is an effective methodology for Russia and it’s also remarkably cheap,” he added, calling for a realignment of U.S. defense spending.

Warner, calling Russia’s election meddling both an intelligence failure and a “failure of imagination,” strongly criticized the White House, key departments and fellow lawmakers for being too complacent in their responses.

As for China, Warner called Beijing’s cyber and censorship infrastructure “the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world” and warned when it comes to artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G mobile phone networks, China is “starting to outpace us on these investments by orders of magnitude.”

In contrast, the Democratic senator laid out a more aggressive approach in cyberspace, with the United States leading allies in an effort to establish clear rules and norms for behavior in cyberspace.

He also said it was imperative the U.S. articulate when and where it would respond to cyberattacks.

“Our adversaries continue to believe that there won’t be consequences for their actions,” Warner said. “For Russia and China, it’s pretty much been open season.”

Warner also delivered a stern message to social media companies.

“Major platform companies — like Twitter and Facebook, but also Reddit, YouTube and Tumblr — aren’t doing nearly enough to prevent their platforms from becoming petri dishes for Russian disinformation and propaganda,” he said. “If they don’t work with us, Congress will have to work on its own.”

The Trump administration unveiled a new National Cyber Strategy in September, calling for a more aggressive response to the growing online threat posed by other countries, terrorist groups and criminal organizations.

“We’re not just on defense,” National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters at the time. “We’re going to do a lot of things offensively, and I think our adversaries need to know that.”

Top U.S. military officials have also said their cyber teams are engaging against other countries, terrorist groups and even criminal organizations on a daily basis.

Warner on Friday praised elements of the new strategy, particularly measures that have allowed the military to respond to attacks more quickly. But, he said, on the whole it is not enough, pointing to Trump’s willingness to “kowtow” to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their Helsinki Summit over Moscow’s election interference efforts.

“No one in the Trump administration in the intel [intelligence] or defense world doesn’t acknowledge what happened in 2016,” he said. “But the fact that the head of our government still [finds] it’s hard to get those words out of his mouth, is a real problem.”

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Former Armenian President Arrested for Deadly Crackdown

An Armenian court on Friday put the nation’s former president in custody on charges linked to a deadly police crackdown on a 2008 protest over alleged voting fraud.

Robert Kocharian, 64, spent two weeks in jail last summer on charges of violating the constitutional order by sending police to break up the protest in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. He was freed on appeal, but on Friday a higher court ordered that he should stay behind bars.

Kocharian’s lawyer said he walked to jail without waiting for police to escort him there.

Kocharian rejects the charges, calling them a political vendetta by incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who helped stage the 2008 protest. The demonstration protested the results of an election two weeks earlier for Kocharian’s replacement. Eight demonstrators and two police died in the clash.

“The main organizer of the events … tries to clean himself of blood,” Kocharian said of Pashinian in a statement Friday.

In the 2008 election, Kocharian, who was president from 1998 to 2008, backed Serzh Sargsyan, who served as Armenia’s president for the following decade.

In April, due to term limits, Sargsyan shifted into the prime minister’s seat in what was seen as an attempt to cling to power. But he stepped down after just six days in office in the face of massive protests organized by Pashinian, who then took the prime minister’s post.

Wiretaps released earlier this week had Pashinian discussing Kocharian’s arrest with the nation’s top security official. Pashinian denounced the released recordings as a “declaration of war” by his political foes.

Pashinian has called an early parliamentary election for this Sunday in a bid to win control of parliament, which is still dominated by members of Sargsyan’s Republican Party. Pashinian’s party is expected to sweep the vote.

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Former Armenian President Arrested for Deadly Crackdown

An Armenian court on Friday put the nation’s former president in custody on charges linked to a deadly police crackdown on a 2008 protest over alleged voting fraud.

Robert Kocharian, 64, spent two weeks in jail last summer on charges of violating the constitutional order by sending police to break up the protest in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. He was freed on appeal, but on Friday a higher court ordered that he should stay behind bars.

Kocharian’s lawyer said he walked to jail without waiting for police to escort him there.

Kocharian rejects the charges, calling them a political vendetta by incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who helped stage the 2008 protest. The demonstration protested the results of an election two weeks earlier for Kocharian’s replacement. Eight demonstrators and two police died in the clash.

“The main organizer of the events … tries to clean himself of blood,” Kocharian said of Pashinian in a statement Friday.

In the 2008 election, Kocharian, who was president from 1998 to 2008, backed Serzh Sargsyan, who served as Armenia’s president for the following decade.

In April, due to term limits, Sargsyan shifted into the prime minister’s seat in what was seen as an attempt to cling to power. But he stepped down after just six days in office in the face of massive protests organized by Pashinian, who then took the prime minister’s post.

Wiretaps released earlier this week had Pashinian discussing Kocharian’s arrest with the nation’s top security official. Pashinian denounced the released recordings as a “declaration of war” by his political foes.

Pashinian has called an early parliamentary election for this Sunday in a bid to win control of parliament, which is still dominated by members of Sargsyan’s Republican Party. Pashinian’s party is expected to sweep the vote.