AP Interview: Pashinian warns Armenia not to deploy troops

Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian react standing on top of vehicles as they protest in Republic Square in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian holds hands in Republic Square in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Police block the entrance to the Ministry of Justice in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. .Opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian carry a large Armenian flag as they protest in Republic Square in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of the opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian vawe an Armenian national flag as they block a road to the airport just outside Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian speaks on his cell phone during an interview with the Associated Press in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Opposition protesters on Wednesday blocked the road leading from Armenia's capital, Yerevan, to its airport, as well as several subway stations and government ministries after their leader Pashinian called for a national strike. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian shout out as they protest in Republic Square in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of the opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian react as they block a road to the airport just outside Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of the opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian dance and sing as they block a road to the airport just outside Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian, right, uses a megaphone during a demonstration in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian react standing on top of a vehicle as they protest in Republic Square in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
People walk with their luggage after vehicles blocked roads in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of the opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian hold an Armenian national flag as they block a road to the airport just outside Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian react standing on top of a vehicle as they protest in Republic Square in Yerevan on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of the opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian dance and sing as they block a road to the airport just outside Yerevan, Armenia, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports on Wednesday after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

YEREVAN, Armenia — The opposition leader spearheading weeks of protests in Armenia warned the government Wednesday not to deploy troops as his supporters blocked roads, cut access to the country's main airport and occupied at least one municipal building.

Nikol Pashinian told The Associated Press that parliament's rejection of his bid to lead the country had only galvanized the opposition and that if the government brings troops to the capital to quell protests "all the soldiers will come to us and join us."

"Today, our actions are much bigger and there is a big crowd reaction from society and from the people," Pashinian said in the interview.

But he emphasized that Armenia's political crisis can't be resolved by force.

Protesters occupied the city hall in Armenia's second-largest city, and media reports said protesters made some significant highways in the countryside impassable.

The State Revenue Committee warned that the blockages could "present a serious blow to Armenia's food security" and called on protesters not to interfere with food deliveries.

Some train services were suspended, and demonstrators were converging in the evening on Yerevan's central Republic Square, where nightly demonstrations over the past three weeks have attracted crowds of tens of thousands.

The protests have plunged the country into political turmoil and led to the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan just days after his appointment.

Sargsyan had led the country as president for 10 years, but stepped down because of term limits. Soon thereafter, parliament named him prime minister under a new government structure that gave the post greater powers. Protesters claimed the move effectively allowed him to remain the country's leader indefinitely.

Pashinian, an opposition lawmaker who has led the protests, demanded to be named prime minister, but the parliament, where Sargsyan's Republican Party has the majority, rejected his bid on Tuesday.

Pashinian said that move effectively was suicidal for the party.

The parliament will hold another vote on naming a prime minister next Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear if the ruling party would put forth a candidate. Pashinian was the only candidate in the first vote. The ruling party said it wouldn't nominate its own candidate in order to avoid inflaming tensions.

Although the vote against Pashinian in the parliament on Tuesday dashed the opposition's hopes for a quick resolution of the tensions, there were no immediate signs that tempers would boil over into clashes. Pashinian insisted that the demonstrations would continue to be peaceful.

"Police and security services are neutral and if they (government) will bring for example the army to Yerevan, all soldiers will come to us and they will join us. And there is no way for any solution by force," Pashinian said in English.

The national railway operator, meanwhile, announced that it was suspending passenger service for the capital's suburban area because of protesters blocking tracks.

About 300 demonstrators used cars to block the road to Armenia's main international airport, forcing many travelers to take long walks hauling their luggage to catch their flights.

The demonstrators on Republic Square have been determined but appeared largely cheerful. Scores of protesters carried a mock coffin and then smashed it to the ground Wednesday, symbolizing what they believe is the death of Armenia's ruling party.

In the interview with the AP, Pashinian said that by rejecting his bid to become prime minister, the ruling party had dealt itself a fatal blow.

"I think that the Republican Party yesterday have made a suicide pact, as a party, as a whole," he said.

Acts of disobedience took place elsewhere in the small former Soviet republic on Wednesday, including protesters occupying the mayor's office in Gyumri, Armenia's second-largest city.

___

Mstyslav Chernov in Yerevan, and Jim Heintz In Moscow, contributed to this story.

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