The Armenian opposition has launched a general strike after the ruling Republican Party blocked opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan's bid to become prime minister after two weeks of anti-government protests ousted veteran leader Serzh Sargsyan.
What's going on in Armenia?
Weeks of protests in Armenia are coming to a head after parliament on Tuesday prevented opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan from becoming prime minister, in an uncontested vote.
His supporters took to the streets on Wednesday after Pashinyan called for a general strike following Tuesday's vote.
The protesters are vowing not to give up until they oust what they call the 'ruling elites' from power and install Pashinyan as head of the government.
How did this political crisis start?
The crisis in the former Soviet republic began in mid-April when former president Serzh Sargsyan took over as prime minister after stepping down as president at the end of his second, and constitutionally last term.
Before Sargsyan's move on April 11, parliament – which his Republican Party dominates – changed the constitution to strengthen the prime minister's role, and downgrade the previously stronger presidency to a largely ceremonial role.
The constitutional changes brought protesters led by Civil Contract party leader Pashinyan into the streets in the capital Yerevan against what they saw as a power grab by Sargsyan. The security apparatus, which answers to the government, tried to break those protests with force. Many people were injured and hundreds were detained.
Despite the protests, Armenia's parliament elected Sargsyan prime minister on April 17.
The crisis deepened with the detention of Pashinyan and two other opposition deputies for "committing socially dangerous acts."
Sargsyan's abrupt resignation
A week later, on April 23, Sargsyan abruptly resigned as the demonstrations against his government continued.
In his resignation letter, he wrote "Pashinyan was right" and "I was wrong."
He said there are solutions to the situation in Armenia, "but I am not one of them." He acknowledged that the popular movement was "against my leadership, and so I am fulfilling your demand."
Pashinyan was freed from detention on the same day. The mood in the capital, Yerevan, improved, with opposition supporters dancing in the streets.
What changed after Sargsyan resigned?
The crisis appeared to be, if not over, then at least contained when the Republican Party agreed to not put up a candidate if Pashinyan asked parliament to make him prime minister.
But the opposition needed the support of the Republican Party to get Pashinyan's candidacy through.
At first, given Sargsyan's admission of fault – widely interpreted as tacit support for Pashinyan's bid – this appeared to be what would happen. But last week, the Republican Party broke off talks with the Pashinyan camp over what acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, a Sargsyan loyalist, said were unspecified "unilateral demands."
When parliament voted on Tuesday evening, Pashinyan received 45 votes, short of the 53 he needed for a majority in the 105-seat legislature. The Republican Party, with 58 seats, withheld its support.
That set the scene for Pashinyan's call for nationwide civil disobedience and a general strike.
He said the majority party had sabotaged his bid for the top job, and warned legislators of a "political tsunami" if they did not support him.
On Wednesday (May 2), in the first waves of that tsunami, his supporters blocked some routes into Yerevan, and a road to the airport.
Under the constitution, another attempt to elect a prime minister is due in a week. It could still be Pashinyan if several Republican lawmakers defect and vote with the opposition.
The opposition leader currently has the backing of several opposition parties, including Prosperous Armenia, the second-largest bloc in parliament. But together that support assures him of only 47 votes, six short of the total needed to make him prime minister.
For next week's vote to go in Pashinyan's favour, should he stand again he will need at least some Republican MPs to break ranks with their party.
If parliament fails twice to elect a new prime minister, the constitution dictates that new elections must be held.
Why is Armenia in crisis?
The small, landlocked country straddling Europe and Asia has struggled since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
According to the government, 11.6 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, earning less than 1,530 Armenian drams ($3.20) a day.
Sargsyan's ten years in power, as president and prime minister, failed to bring prosperity to Armenia. The global economic crisis in 2008 saw a 14 percent GDP decline in Armenia in 2009, from which it has barely recovered.
Strong ties with Russia have become one of the reasons for slow economic growth, although Armenia, surrounded by neighbours with troubled relationship, had few alternatives.
The economy did pick up in 2017, growing 7.5 percent, but it was from a low base as the growth rate was practically zero in 2016.
By the end of last year, deflation, weak domestic demand, a budget deficit, and a 16 percent unemployment rate were all pressuring the government, and angering the long-suffering people.
As a journalist, Pashinyan had been writing about corruption scandals in Armenia since the mid-1990s. The last straw for the veteran activist was the election of Sargsyan as prime minister last month, after parliament tweaked the constitution in his favour.
Pashinyan says he will rid Armenia of corruption, favouritism and poverty, after becoming prime minister.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. And much of what happens next is not in his hands.