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Revolution sweeps Armenian opposition leader into power

His win marks a dramatic rupture with previous rulers who have run the country since the late 1990s

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Newly elected Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (left) greeting supporters in Republic Square in the capital Yerevan on Tuesday. He called on them to come together behind his new government.

Yerevan

OPPOSITION leader Nikol Pashinyan was elected Armenia's prime minister on Tuesday, capping a peaceful revolution driven by weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism in the ex-Soviet republic.

Moscow, which has a military base in Armenia, is wary of an uncontrolled change of power which would pull the country out of its orbit, but Mr Pashinyan has offered assurances that he will not break with the Kremlin.

The election of Mr Pashinyan, a former newspaper editor who spent time in prison for fomenting unrest, marks a dramatic rupture with the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.

Mr Pashinyan, born in 1975, spearheaded a protest movement that first forced veteran leader Serzh Sarksyan to step down as prime minister and then pressured the ruling party to abandon attempts to block his election as prime minister, the country's most powerful post.

In a vote in parliament on Tuesday, 59 lawmakers backed his candidacy, including some from the ruling Republican Party, with 42 voting against.

A central square in the capital, where Mr Pashinyan's supporters gathered to watch the voting on huge television screens, erupted into joy when the result was shown.

The tens of thousands of people in Republic Square shouted "Nikol!" and white doves were released into the air. People hugged and kissed each other.

"We won! We made history today!" said Gurgen Simonyan, 22, a student in the crowd.

Mr Pashinyan's protest movement started when Mr Sarksyan, barred by the constitution from seeking another term as president, became prime minister instead. Many Armenians saw that as a cynical ploy by Mr Sarskyan to extend his hold on power.

In a speech to parliament moments before the vote, Mr Pashinyan called on Armenia's people to come together behind the new government he will lead. "The page of hatred should be turned," he said, adding: "May God help us."

Armenia is a country of about three million people nestled in mountains between Iran, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Since it emerged as an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia - a majority Christian country - has been locked in a territorial conflict with mainly-Muslim Azerbaijan, and under economic blockade from Turkey.

Its isolation led it to depend heavily on former colonial ruler Moscow. Mr Pashinyan said on Tuesday Armenia would stay in a regional collective security organisation headed by Russia and that he hoped for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. REUTERS

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