Ar­me­nia pres­i­dent sus­pends elec­tric­ity price hike

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ar­me­nian Pres­i­dent Serzh Sark­isian on Satur­day sus­pended a con­tro­ver­sial hike in elec­tric­ity prices but the move failed to ap­pease protesters who vowed to keep up with the largest antigov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions the ex-Soviet na­tion has seen in years.

Thou­sands have taken to the streets of the cap­i­tal Yere­van since June 19 to demon­strate against a pro­posed 16-per­cent hike in elec­tric­ity prices in a coun­try al­ready hit hard by the eco­nomic cri­sis in neigh­bor­ing Rus­sia.

Un­der pres­sure to end the un­rest, Sark­isian an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment would tem­po­rar­ily “bear the bur­den” of the higher rates pend­ing an au­dit on “how jus­ti­fied the tar­iff raise is and what its con­se­quences would be for the coun­try’s econ­omy.”

“An­nulling the tar­iff raise is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous,” Sark­isian told a cab­i­net meet­ing, warn­ing that “if an au­dit con­firms that the tar­iff raise is jus­ti­fied, con­sumers will start pay­ing ac­cord­ing to a new price.”

Protesters dis­missed the pres­i­dent’s an­nounce­ment as in­ad­e­quate and re­peated de­mands for the price in­crease to be scrapped al­to­gether.

Chant­ing “We will win!” some 10,000 peo­ple ral­lied near the pres­i­den­tial palace in Yere­van, block­ing traf­fic on the city’s main thor­ough­fare for a ninth con­sec­u­tive day.

“Our de­mand re­mains un­changed: the de­ci­sion to raise elec­tric­ity tar­iffs must be re­versed,” one of the ac­tivists at the rally, Bag­i­nak Shushanyan, told a cheer­ing crowd.

The protests in Yere­van gained mo­men­tum af­ter hun­dreds of riot po­lice moved in early Tues­day to break up a rally us­ing wa­ter cannon.

Washington, Brus­sels and the OSCE pan-Euro­pean se­cu­rity body have all ex­pressed con­cern over the vi­o­lence.

Anger has long sim­mered in Ar­me­nia over the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to lift the Cau­ca­sus na­tion of 3.2 mil­lion out of poverty but the de­ci­sion to raise house­hold elec­tric­ity prices from Au­gust proved the last straw.

Owned by the Rus­sian state-con­trolled hold­ing In­ter RAO, Ar­me­nia’s power dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany said the hike was needed due to a sharp de­val­u­a­tion of the na­tional cur­rency, the dram.

Ar­me­nia, an ally of Moscow, has been hit hard by the eco­nomic cri­sis in Rus­sia brought on by fall­ing oil prices and Western sanc­tions over Ukraine.

In Jan­uary, Ar­me­nia joined the Rus­sian-led Eurasian Eco­nomic Union, fur­ther in­creas­ing Yere­van’s de­pen­dence on its for­mer im­pe­rial master.

Protesters gather dur­ing a protest rally against a hike in elec­tric­ity prices in Yere­van, Ar­me­nia, Satur­day, June 27.

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