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Armenia detains critics of Karabakh peace deal

Dozens were arrested during protests against the peace deal in Yerevan on Wednesday - Karen MINASYAN / ©AFP
Dozens were arrested during protests against the peace deal in Yerevan on Wednesday - Karen MINASYAN / ©AFP

(AFP)

Armenia on Thursday arrested 10 leading opposition figures for violently protesting against a Russian-brokered peace deal that ended weeks of fighting with Azerbaijan and sparked fury with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Prosecutors announced the arrests hours ahead of a fresh demonstration called by the opposition against the accord that sees Armenia give up swathes of disputed territory in Nagorno-Karabkh to their long-standing foe.

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The 10 politicians face up to a decade behind bars for their role in “illegal violent mass disorder”, prosecutors said in a statement, after protesters stormed and ransacked government buildings on Tuesday over Pashinyan’s agreement to end the fighting.

“We consider this to be an act of political persecution,” said Lilit Galstyan from the opposition Dashnaktsutyun party, which saw at least two of its members detained.

“This government has no moral right to stay in power.”

Earlier this week, Pashinyan accused the protesters who overran government buildings of being controlled by “oligarchs who were looting our army, our soldiers, our country for 20 years”. 

The 45-year-old former newspaper editor, who swept to power in 2018 promising to root out endemic corruption, denounced the demonstrators for stirring up unrest when security services were on the frontlines.

At a protest in Yerevan on Wednesday police hauled off 135 people at a rally against the peace deal in front of the government headquarters where demonstrators were calling Pashinyan a “traitor”.

– No Turkish peacekeepers –

Fighting between Armenian separatists in the Nargono-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and Baku’s army erupted in late September and raged for six weeks, leaving more than 1,400 dead and forcing thousands to flee their homes. 

Critics of Pashinyan issued an ultimatum for him to resign before midnight Wednesday or face a massive protest movement after he agreed in the early hours of Tuesday to halt the fighting with Azerbaijan for control of the disputed region.

The deal stipulates that Azerbaijan’s forces will retain control over areas seized in the fighting, including the second-largest town of Shusha, while Armenia agreed to a timetable to withdraw from large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Russian peacekeepers began deploying in Karabakh on Wednesday as part of the terms of the accord and took control of a key transport artery connecting Armenia to the disputed province.

Russian military officials said the mission consisting of nearly 2,000 troops would put in place 16 observation posts in mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor.

Fighting between ex-Soviet Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists raged despite several ceasefires brokered by France, Russia and the United States that were left in tatters following mutual allegations of violations hours after they were due to take effect.

Azerbaijan has been pushing for Ankara’s involvement in a settlement and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week his country would jointly supervise the ceasefire with Russia.

Turkey, a staunch ally of Azerbaijan, was widely accused by Western countries, Russia and Armenia of dispatching mercenaries from Syria to bolster Azerbaijan’s army.

Russia has thrown cold water on Ankara’s ambitions to play a key role in the peacekeeping mission and on Thursday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Turkey would instead monitor the mission from an observation centre on Azerbaijan’s territory. 

“No peacekeeping units of the Turkish Republic will be sent to Nagorno-Karabakh,” Lavrov said.

Mariam HARUTYUNYAN

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