In Armenia, rate hikes for electricity suspended
President’s move comes after days of protests; demonstrators remain
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.”