Armenia protesters defy ex-president's move to premier seat

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian, right, speaks to a police officer in front of a police line blocking the way to demonstrators protesting the former president's shift into the prime minister's seat in Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Supporters of opposition parties in Armenia have blocked government buildings and streets in the capital since Friday, but the demonstrations did not deter lawmakers from voting 77-17 to confirm ex-President Serzh Sargsyan as the new prime minister. (Narek Aleksanyan, PAN Photo via AP)
Police block the way to opposition demonstrators protesting the former president's shift into the prime minister's seat in Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Supporters of opposition parties in Armenia have blocked government buildings and streets in the capital since Friday, but the demonstrations did not deter lawmakers from voting 77-17 to confirm ex-President Serzh Sargsyan as the new prime minister. (Narek Aleksanyan, PAN Photo via AP)
Police blocked the way to opposition demonstrators protesting the former president's shift into the prime minister's seat in Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Supporters of opposition parties in Armenia have blocked government buildings and streets in the capital since Friday, but the demonstrations did not deter lawmakers from voting 77-17 to confirm ex-President Serzh Sargsyan as the new prime minister. (Narek Aleksanyan, PAN Photo via AP)

YEREVAN, Armenia — Thousands of demonstrators swarmed the Armenian capital Wednesday to protest the former president's shift into the prime minister's seat which they see as an attempt to hold onto power.

Opponents of Serzh Sargsyan, who served as Armenia's president from 2008 and became the country's prime minister Tuesday, blockaded government buildings and paralyzed traffic in the capital.

Sargsyan stepped down because of term limits, but he will continue to play the dominant role as prime minister under a new political system that envisages a mostly ceremonial role for president.

About 15,000 rallied Wednesday at Yerevan's central Republic Square under slogans: "Make a step and reject Serzh." Smaller protests also have swept Armenia's second-largest city of Gyumri and a few other cities.

Protests that began Friday have been mostly peaceful, except for Monday's clashes with police that left 46 people injured, including six police officers.

The protest leader, opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian, urged the demonstrators to continue picketing and blockading government buildings.

Several dozen demonstrators briefly entered the building of the Yerevan State University, urging its students to join the protests.

Earlier Wednesday, police unblocked some of the streets cut by protesters and detained 84 demonstrators, according to police spokesman Ashot Agaronian. He said that 30 of those detained already have been released and would face administrative charges.

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