Armenia protesters blockade courts after prime minister’s call

Armenia protesters blockade courts after prime minister’s callProtesters blockaded entrances to court buildings in the Armenian capital on Monday after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called for a demonstration against judges he accuses of political bias.

Pashinyan on Sunday called on Armenians to “blockade court buildings across the republic” after a Yerevan court released former president Robert Kocharyan from pre-trial detention.

The symbolic protest comes as Pashinyan tries to consolidate power in the ex-Soviet country a year after leading a popular revolt against former president Serzh Sarkisian and corrupt elites.

“Our goal is the creation of an independent judiciary in Armenia,” Pashinyan said in a video address to the nation, published on his Facebook page.

Braving torrential rain, dozens of Pashinyan supporters set up pickets outside the country’s Constitutional Court, as well as Yerevan’s City Court building in the early hours on Monday, an AFP correspondent reported.

Kocharyan is accused of tipping a 2008 presidential ballot in favour of his hand-picked ally Sarkisian. He faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of “overthrowing the constitutional order.”

He was arrested in July last year, then briefly released but re-arrested again in December and has since then remained in pre-trial detention.

On Saturday, a Yerevan court released him from custody, pending final decision into the case.

Pashinyan has denounced the ruling — which has sparked widespread outrage in the impoverished Caucasus country — as politically motivated.

Later on Monday, the 43-year-old premier is set to make a live speech about the “second and most important stage of the revolution.”

Kocharyan led Armenia for a decade up to 2008 when Sarkisian was elected and remained in charge until the 2018 revolt against an attempt to extend his power forced him to resign.

He has rejected the charges brought against him as Pashinyan’s “political vendetta.”

After the 2008 election, tensions erupted into violent clashes between riot police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate, who denounced the vote as fraudulent.

Eight protesters and two officers were killed.

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