Memorials marking the anniversary of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915 took place a day after Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian resigned
Yerevan (AFP) - Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday said he was ready to lead the country after the shock resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian following eleven days of protests against his rule.
"Yes of course we are ready to lead our country," Pashinyan said at a news conference in Yerevan, after being asked whether he was willing to steer the government of the ex-Soviet South Caucasus country.
"If people will bestow on me this responsibility, I'll assume the responsibility," Pashinyan said.
Sarkisian stunned the country on Monday by standing down from his new post as prime minister.
He had previously spent a decade in power as president and was accused of a blatant power grab by the opposition, who staged days of rallies in protest.
According to Armenian law, lawmakers in the parliament, where Sarkisian's Republican Party have a majority, have a week to propose new candidates for PM and could hold a vote on May 2.
A meeting due to take place Wednesday between Pashinyan and acting head of government Karen Karapetyan to discuss the transfer of power was cancelled, a spokesman for Pashinyan said Tuesday night without giving further details.
Pashinyan, the 42-year-old leader of the Civil Contract party, had earlier said that he was not ready to "negotiate" with Karapetyan and insisted that the only topic for talks was a "full and peaceful transfer of power."
The new prime minister must be a "people's candidate" and not a member of Sarkisian's ruling Republican Party, he stressed.
"Early parliamentary elections will be held with the shortest possible delay," Pashinyan said, promising that they must be "absolutely free and democratic."
Earlier Tuesday, tens of thousands of Armenians marched in honour of 1.5 million of their kin killed by Ottoman forces during World War I in commemorations that are a hugely emotional event.
Clutching a purple rose, the bearded Pashinyan, 42, led a huge crowd of supporters to the hilltop Tsitsernakaberd memorial, wearing his trademark khaki-coloured T-shirt, where he held official commemorations.
- 'Difficult phase' -
Karapetyan appealed for unity after the wrenching political turmoil in a country locked in a simmering territorial conflict with Azerbaijan.
"We are going through a difficult new phase in our history," he said in a statement.
"Today we show the world that despite difficulties and unresolved domestic issues we are together and united. This is our duty to the genocide's innocent victims."
Russia -- which has a military base in Armenia -- appealed for stability but said it would not interfere.
Pashinyan on Tuesday said that Russia and Armenia are "friendly, brotherly countries, but that doesn't mean there are no problems between us."
"If someone names me a pro-Western or pro-Russian it will be a misunderstanding. I am pro-Armenian," he said.
- 'New shocks?' -
Many Armenians said they felt mixed emotions because the impoverished country's future was uncertain.
"I've been thinking from the start of the day that everything is just beginning," said Asya Bagdasaryan, 43.
"What awaits us in the future? Will there be new shocks?"
Armenia -- which depends on investment and aid from Russia -- has been hit hard by economic troubles in its former Soviet master.
Unemployment stood at 18 percent last year. The opposition says some 290,000 people have left the country since Sarkisian came to power in 2008.
Political turmoil enveloped the landlocked country of 2.9 million people after Sarkisian was elected prime minister by lawmakers after serving two successive presidential terms.
The opposition charged that the 63-year-old wanted to extend his grip on power under a new parliamentary system of government, saying he failed to tackle poverty and corruption.
Protests broke out several days before his expected election, with tens of thousands of people eventually taking to the streets of Yerevan and other cities in largely peaceful protests.
Sarkisian initially refused to resign but quit on the 11th day of demonstrations after a number of serving servicemen joined the marches.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed hope that the country's new leader would suit "all forces representing the Armenian people".
A spokesman for Azerbaijan's foreign ministry said he hoped that new Armenian authorities would adopt a "constructive" approach over the breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh.