Karabakh separatist leader resigns amid deepening blockade crisis

By Felix Light

TBILISI (Reuters) - The separatist head of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh has resigned amid widespread food and fuel shortages resulting from an almost year-long blockade of the territory by Azerbaijan.

Arayik Haratyunyan, who is an ethnic Armenian, said in a statement on Thursday: "Tomorrow I will present to the people of the Artsakh Republic and the national assembly of Artsakh my resignation from the post of president of the republic."

Artsakh is the Armenian name for the breakaway region.

Haratyunyan suggested that his presidency was an obstacle to negotiations with Azerbaijan and that "difficulties in the country have significantly reduced the trust in the authorities".

Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but whose population of 120,000 is predominantly ethnic Armenian, won de facto independence after a war in the early 1990s.

In 2020, Azerbaijan retook territories in and around Karabakh in a second war that left the region dependent on Russian peacekeepers deployed under a Moscow-brokered ceasefire.

Haratyunyan, who presided over the 2020 defeat, faced calls to quit that have intensified since December, when Azerbaijan began a blockade of the Lachin corridor, the one road linking Karabakh to Armenia, on which the region is dependent.

Azerbaijan denies that it imposed a blockade on the Lachin corridor, and says that alternative routes to resupply Karabakh through Azerbaijani territory are available.

The blockade has seen acute shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies inside Karabakh.

Haratyunyan had also clashed with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has signalled a potential willingness to recognise Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, a move that would jeopardise the survival of the region's breakaway authorities.

(Reporting by Felix Light, Editing by Angus MacSwan)