By Hasmik Mkrtchyan
YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan said he was resigning on Monday to help maintain civic peace following almost two weeks of mass street protests that have plunged the impoverished ex-Soviet republic into political crisis.
Sarksyan, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had served as Armenia’s president for a decade until this month and had faced accusations of clinging to power when parliament elected him as prime minister last week.
Under a revised constitution, the prime minister now holds most power in the tiny southern Caucasus nation, while the presidency has become largely ceremonial.
Pressure on the 63-year-old to quit had increased sharply on Monday when unarmed soldiers in the capital Yerevan joined the anti-government protests which first began on April 13.
Though peaceful, the tumult has threatened to destabilize Armenia, a key Russian ally in a volatile region riven by its decades-long low-level conflict with Azerbaijan. Moscow, which has two military bases in Armenia, was closely watching events.
“I got it wrong,” Sarksyan said in a statement issued by his office.
“In the current situation there are several solutions, but I won’t choose any of them. It’s not my style. I am quitting the country’s leadership and the post of prime minister of Armenia.”
He said he was bowing to protesters’ demands and wanted his country to remain peaceful.
Former Armenian prime minister Karen Karapetyan, an ally of Sarksyan, was named as acting prime minister, Russia’s RIA news agency said, citing the Armenian government’s press office.
Armenia’s political parties in parliament now have seven days to put forward the name of a new prime minister.
Protesters loudly celebrated Sarksyan’s resignation.
Some hugged policemen in the street amid repeated cries of “Hurrah!”, others beeped car horns, and some residents of Yerevan were even spotted dancing outside.
The protests which toppled Sarksyan lasted for 11 days and saw tens of thousands of protesters march through Yerevan and other towns, blocking streets and staging sit-ins that disrupted daily life.
On Sunday, police had detained three opposition leaders and nearly 200 protesters, drawing a rebuke from the European Union. Police released Nikol Pashinyan, a lawmaker regarded as the main opposition leader, on Monday.
(Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan in Yerevan; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones)