Armenia’s prime minister declared Thursday that the army’s demand for his resignation was a coup attempt in the former Soviet republic.
In a passionate speech at a rally in the capital of Yerevan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told thousands of supporters “What is happening I assess as an attempt at a military coup.”
A public statement Thursday from the general staff the armed forces demanding the resignation of Pashinyan and his government followed Pashinyan’s ouster earlier this week of its deputy chief.
“The ineffective management of the current authorities and the serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse," the military statement said.
Pashinyan has faced calls to leave office since ethnic Armenian forces lost a six-week war and territory to Azerbaijan in November, but Thursday was the first time the military called publicly for his resignation.
Pashinyan went further after the military’s statement Thursday, firing General Staff chief Onik Gasparyan.
As Pashinyan led thousands of supporters marching in Yerevan, thousands of opponents held a rival rally in nearby Freedom Square. They applauded as a fighter jet flew over and chanted “Nikol, you traitor!” and “Nikol, resign!”
Opposition leader Vazgen Manukyan accused the government of trying to create divisions between citizens and the army.
Pashinyan signed a Russia-brokered peace agreement in November to end the fighting with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, triggering protests and calls for his resignation since then.
Under the deal, Azerbaijan reclaimed control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.
Nagorno-Karabakh is within Azerbaijan, but for more than 25 years had been under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.
Pashinyan defended the peace agreement as necessary to prevent further advances by Azerbaijan.