(Update: adds details from opposing rallies)
Tbilisi, Feb 25 (efe-epa).- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday fired the head of the country’s armed forces after an “attempted coup.”
Chief of General Staff Onik Gasparyan was among dozens of senior army officials, who signed a statement Thursday calling on the prime minister to step down. Pashinyan has faced growing opposition after Armenian forces were defeated in the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020.
The statement from the senior military command said: “The prime minister of Armenia and the government are no longer capable of making the appropriate decisions in this situation of crisis for Armenians.”
In a social media post, Pashinyan said: “I consider the statement from the General Staff to be an attempted military coup.”
He called on his supporters to gather in Republic Square in the heart of the Armenian capital Yerevan, where he said: “I have been elected by the people and it is the people who must decide on my resignation.”
The prime minister said he has proposed holding early elections, but that has been rejected by the opposition, which has been demanding his resignation for the past three months since Armenia lost the Nagorno-Karabakh war to Azerbaijan.
“They don’t want the people to choose, they want the 17 (opposition) forces and the elites to do it,” he said.
Pashinian insisted that changes in Armenia should be effected through the polls, and called on the opposition, which was gathered in a rival protest rally on another square in Yerevan, to agree to a dialogue.
“I am ready to hold consultations even with the most radical forces,” he said.
At the rally at Freedom Square, Pashinian’s opponents said they would not rest until the prime minister had resigned.
“We are going to spend the night here,” the coordinator of the Movement for the Salvation of the Homeland, Ishkhan Sagatelian, promised.
The fragile balance between the government and the Armenian Armed Forces broke down this week after the prime minister, in power since the 2018 peaceful revolution, criticized the alleged shortcomings of Russian-made Iskander tactical missiles during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, which ended last November with Armenia’s defeat.
More than 5,000 people were killed during the 44-day war between Armenian forces and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory between September and November last year.
The international community recognizes Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the region, which has a majority ethnic Armenian population. EFE-EPA