In Ar­me­nia, rate hikes for elec­tric­ity sus­pended

Pres­i­dent’s move comes af­ter days of protests; de­mon­stra­tors re­main

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY AVET DEMOURIAN

yere­van, ar­me­nia — The pres­i­dent of Ar­me­nia on Satur­day sus­pended hikes in house­hold elec­tric­ity rates in an ef­fort to end the protests that have blocked the cap­i­tal’s main av­enue for six straight days. The de­mon­stra­tors, how­ever, didn’t dis­perse.

Pres­i­dent Serge Sark­isian said the gov­ern­ment would bear the bur­den of the higher elec­tric­ity costs un­til an au­dit of the Rus­sian-owned power com­pany could be com­pleted. At least some of the money ap­peared to be com­ing from Moscow, where the protests have caused great con­cern.

Ar­me­nia is closely al­lied with Rus­sia, which main­tains a mil­i­tary base in the for­mer Soviet na­tion. Rus­sian com­pa­nies con­trol most of its ma­jor in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing the power grid, which the protesters claim is rid­dled with cor­rup­tion.

Some of the protest or­ga­niz­ers called for de­mon­stra­tors to re­main on the street un­til the rate hikes were com­pletely an­nulled, but they said the de­ci­sion on whether to con­tinue the protest would be made Sun­day evening.

Thou­sands of protesters have blocked Yere­van’s main av­enue since Mon­day, their num­bers steadily in­creas­ing through­out the week to a peak of about 15,000.

Only a few hun­dred protesters have re­mained on the street around the clock, with the num­bers swelling in the evenings. The protests, or­ga­nized largely through so­cial media, have be­come pop­u­lar on Twit­ter with the hash­tag #Elec­tricYere­van.

In re­cent days, the protest has looked more like a street party, with the mostly young de­mon­stra­tors danc­ing and singing na­tional songs.

The an­nounce­ment from Sark­isian came af­ter a meet­ing the night be­fore with Rus­sian Trans­port Min­is­ter Maxim Sokolov, who co- chairs a Rus­sian-Ar­me­nian eco­nomic com­mis­sion. At the meet­ing, they agreed to an au­dit of the elec­tric­ity com­pany.

But that did not sat­isfy the protesters.

Sark­isian said Satur­day that the 17 per­cent elec­tric­ity hike is nec­es­sary to sup­port the power grid and that he is or­der­ing the gov­ern­ment to cover the cost. He said it would not be done at the ex­pense of so­cial pay­ments, a sen­si­tive is­sue in a coun­try where one-third of the pop­u­la­tion of 3 mil­lion lives be­low the of­fi­cial poverty line.

In­stead, the pres­i­dent said, the money will come from the se­cu­rity bud­get.

“Of course, our se­cu­rity prob­lems are far from be­ing re­solved, and that’s an un­der­state­ment, but to­day’s at­mos­phere of sus­pi­cion and dis­trust I also see as a prob­lem of se­cu­rity, and a very se­ri­ous prob­lem,” he said in a state­ment re­leased by his of­fice. “It needs to be re­solved.”

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