Ar­me­ni­ans demon­strate against elec­tric­ity prices

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY AVET DEMOURIAN

Street protests in the Ar­me­nian cap­i­tal against a hike in elec­tric­ity prices grew on Tues­day evening, with an es­ti­mated 7,000 peo­ple join­ing a sec­ond at­tempt to march to­ward the pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence even af­ter riot po­lice had used wa­ter can­nons to force­fully dis­perse de­mon­stra­tors.

The num­ber of riot po­lice also in­creased, and hel­meted of­fi­cers hold­ing shields stood shoul­der-toshoul­der to block the protesters from mov­ing far­ther down the cen­tral av­enue in Yere­van. The protesters stood be­hind large trash con­tain­ers that they had placed across the road as a bar­ri­cade.

There ap­peared to be some progress to­ward end­ing the stand­off late Tues­day, with the protesters agree­ing to ap­point sev­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tives to meet with Presi- dent Serge Sark­isian. But af­ter a long dis­cus­sion, they changed their mind.

In the early hours of Wed­nes­day, the street re­mained full of protesters, most of them young.

Yere­van’s deputy po­lice chief, Valery Osipyan, told the crowd that all of the nearly 240 protesters de­tained early Tues­day had been re­leased, one of the de­mon­stra­tors’ de­mands.

The un­rest was the most se­ri­ous that Ar­me­nia has seen in years, rais­ing con­cerns about po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the im­pov­er­ished for­mer Soviet na­tion, which hosts a Rus­sian mil­i­tary base and is part of a Moscow-dom­i­nated eco­nomic al­liance.

Rus­sian com­pa­nies con­trol some of the most prized eco­nomic as­sets in Ar­me­nia, in­clud­ing the power grid. The protest was trig­gered when an Ar­me­nian gov­ern­ment com­mis­sion agreed to raise elec­tric­ity rates at the re­quest of the power com­pany.

Rus­sia was closely fol­low­ing the protests, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said.

“Of course, we hope that in the near fu­ture the sit­u­a­tion will be re­solved in strict ac­cor­dance with the law and that there will be no vi­o­la­tions of the law,” Dmitry Peskov told jour­nal­ists.

The U.S. Em­bassy in Yere­van voiced con­cern about re­ports of ex­ces­sive use of force by po­lice and urged the gov­ern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate.

On Mon­day, about 5,000 de­mon­stra­tors marched to­ward the pres­i­den­tial head­quar­ters, but were stopped by lines of riot po­lice backed by wa­ter can­nons. The protesters then sat on the road, block­ing traf­fic and ig­nor­ing po­lice de­mands to leave.

Sev­eral hun­dred re­mained in place overnight. Riot po­lice broke up the protest early Tues­day, us­ing wa­ter can­nons.

Some protesters re­sisted and threw rocks at the of­fi­cers, who re­sponded by beat­ing them with trun­cheons. Plain­clothes po­lice agents also rounded up de­mon­stra­tors.

Fif­teen peo­ple sought med­i­cal treat­ment and seven of them were hos­pi­tal­ized, the Health Min­istry said.

Po­lice also broke up a small rally in Ar­me­nia’s sec­ond-largest city of Gyumri on Tues­day back­ing the main protest, ar­rest­ing 12 peo­ple.

The de­mon­stra­tors were de­mand­ing that the gov­ern­ment re­con­sider its de­ci­sion to in­crease elec­tric­ity prices for house­holds by 17-22 per­cent. Some protesters also called for Sark­isian’s res­ig­na­tion.

The op­po­si­tion Ar­me­nian Na- tional Congress walked out of par­lia­ment in protest Tues­day against the rally’s breakup and de­manded the re­lease of all those de­tained.

Raffi Ho­van­nisian, the leader of the op­po­si­tion Her­itage party who chal­lenged Sark­isian in a 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, also de­nounced the gov­ern­ment crack­down on the protest, call­ing it “a na­tional shame.”

Sark­isian, who is serv­ing his sec­ond term, has not yet com­mented on the protest.

The land­locked coun­try’s econ­omy is hob­bled by the long­stand­ing clo­sure of its borders with Azer­bai­jan and Tur­key over a con­flict in the Nagorno-Karabakh re­gion. It de­pends on close ties with Rus­sia.

Alexan­der Iskan­dar­ian, head of the Cau­ca­sus In­sti­tute, an in­de­pen­dent think tank, said the protest re­flected “the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of op­po­si­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.”

AP

Ar­me­nian po­lice use wa­ter canons to dis­perse protesters de­mon­strat­ing over an in­crease in elec­tric­ity prices in the Ar­me­nian cap­i­tal of Yere­van, Tues­day, June 23.

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