Tuesday, 14 August 2018 | News today: 0

Armenia police detain protest leader Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan

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Police in Armenia have detained an opposition MP who has been leading anti-government protests.

Nikol Pashinyan was picked up after Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan cut short a televised meeting between the two, the BBC reported.

During their three-minute confrontation Pashinyan insisted that the PM should resign. Sargsyan said it was “blackmail” and walked out.

The opposition argues that a recent constitutional change is an effort by Sargsyan to retain power.

The move – approved by parliament on Tuesday – strengthens the role of prime minister, which Sargsyan only took on last week. He stepped down as president after reaching his two-term limit.

Sunday’s events began with a meeting – attended by dozens of journalists – between Sargsyan and Pashinyan at a hotel in the capital Yerevan.

The exchange was brief. After the prime minister said he was glad his rival had “responded to my numerous appeals to negotiate”, Pashinyan struck an uncompromising note.

“I think there is a misunderstanding,” he said. “I have come here to discuss the terms of your resignation and the terms of a peaceful and smooth transition of power.”

Sargsyan said that “this is not a dialogue, this is blackmail”, and left.

Addressing the assembled reporters afterwards, Pashinyan called on his supporters to continue their protests, which have continued for more than a week.

He was detained shortly afterwards, as riot police were dispersing thousands of protesters in Yerevan. His whereabouts are unclear.

The veteran politician has been accused of failing to address continuing tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as widespread poverty at home.

The opposition has also criticised his government’s close ties with Russia – whose leader Vladimir Putin also moved between the positions of president and prime minister to maintain his grip on power.

Pashinyan – who was jailed over his part in protests against Sargsyan in 2008 – recently described the campaign he leads as a “velvet revolution”, referring to the peaceful protests in 1989 that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

While president, Serzh Sargsyan said he had no intention of becoming prime minister at the end of his second five-year term.

However, on Tuesday he was chosen by parliament to serve as prime minister.

His supporters argue that the tough veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Azerbaijan in the late 1980s has provided the national security Armenia needs.