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Protests shut streets in Armenia’s capital, roads in other parts to demand the prime minister resign

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YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Protesters demanding the resignation of Armenia’s prime minister on Monday blocked main streets in the capital city and other parts of the country, sporadically clashing with police.

Police said 196 people have been detained in Yerevan. Protests have roiled the country for weeks, sparked by the government’s return of four border villages to Azerbaijan.

The demonstrations are spearheaded by Bagrat Galstanyan, a high-ranking cleric in the Armenian Apostolic Church and archbishop of the Tavush diocese in Armenia’s northeast, where the returned villages are located.

Although the villages were the protests’ rallying point, they have expanded to express a wide array of complaints against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government.

Top figures in Galstanyan’s Tavush for the Homeland movement told a huge rally in Yerevan on Sunday that they support Galstanyan becoming the next prime minister.

The decision to turn over the villages in Tavush followed a lightning military campaign in September, in which Azerbaijan’s military forced ethnic Armenian separatists in the Karabakh region to capitulate.

After Azerbaijan took full control of Karabakh, about 120,000 people fled the region, almost all from its ethnic Armenian population.

Ethnic Armenian fighters backed by the Armenian military had taken control of Karabakh in 1994 after a six-year war. Azerbaijan regained some of the territory after fighting in 2020 ended an armistice brought on by a Russian peacekeeping force, which began withdrawing this year.

Pashinyan has said Armenia needs to quickly define the border with Azerbaijan to avoid a new round of hostilities.

The tensions in Monday’s protests were also colored by concerns about severe flooding that hit the Tavush region and adjacent areas this week. Armenian officials said Monday that at least four people have died and 429 others have been evacuated.

The head of Armenia’s national rescue service, Kamo Tsutsutsyan, said that several settlements had been cut off by floodwaters and that a cableway was being built to reach some of the stranded.