Thousands rally in Armenia in protest at Azerbaijan land transfer

Thousands of Armenians staged an anti-government protest on Sunday, demanding Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's resignation over territorial concessions to arch foe neighbour Azerbaijan.

Protests erupted in the Caucasus nation last month after the government agreed to hand over to Baku territory it had controlled since the 1990s.

The ceded area is strategically important for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.

Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move cuts them off from the rest of the country and accuse Pashinyan of giving away territory without getting anything in return.

On Friday, in a key step toward normalising ties between the rivals -- who fought two wars over then-disputed Nagorno Karabakh region -- Yerevan returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it seized decades ago.

An AFP reporter said several thousand people flooded Yerevan's central Republic Square in a fresh protest spearheaded by charismatic archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, a church leader from the Tavush region, where villages were handed over to Azerbaijan.

"Our people want to change the bitter reality which was imposed on us," Galstanyan told the crowd, adding that fixing the volatile border with Azerbaijan "must only be carried out after a peace treaty is signed" with Baku.

One of the demonstrators, 67-year-old Artur Sargsyan, said: "We demand an immediate resignation of Nikol (Pashinyan)."

He then called on protesters to march toward Pashinyan's residence.

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