Armenia's president refuses order to dismiss military chief

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Opposition demonstrators march to the government buildings during a rally to pressure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. The developments come after months of protests sparked by the nation's defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. (Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

YEREVAN – About 15,000 protesters calling for the resignation of Armenia’s prime minister marched through the capital Saturday as pressure on the leader intensified after the country's president rejected his order to dismiss the chief of the military general staff.

Protests against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan arose in November after he signed a cease-fire ending a six-week war with Azerbaijan over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The agreement saw Armenia lose control of territories in Azerbaijan it had held for more than 25 years.

Top military officers this week joined in demanding Pashinyan’s resignation, a move that he called an attempted coup. He ordered the dismissal of the chief of the general staff, but the order was subject to approval by Armenia's largely ceremonial president.

President Armen Sarkissian sent the order back to Pashinyan on Saturday, saying he could not give approval because he considered parts of the decree to be in violation of the constitution. It was not immediately clear if Pashinyan would try to revise the order.

At the protest rally, opposition politician Naira Zograbyan, who once was a journalist at a newspaper owned by Pashinyan, denounced the prime minister.

“This is not a military coup. This is a revolution of thought, reason, love, which will win,” she said.

The political crisis is being watched closely, particularly in Russia and Turkey, which compete for influence in the South Caucasus region.

The South Caucasus has strategic importance as a bridge between Europe and Asia and major pipelines transporting Azerbaijani oil to the West pass through the region.