Police Refrain From New Crackdown as Armenians Continue Electricity Hike Protest
By Hovannes Movsisian and Sisak Gabrielian
Armenian security forces refrained from another violent crackdown on demonstrators protesting against a hike in electricity prices as the latter blocked a central avenue in Yerevan for the third day running on June 24.
Hundreds of mostly young activists spent a second night on Marshal Bagramian Avenue in a continuing standoff with riot police deployed nearby to prevent them from marching to the presidential palace in the Armenian capital. Most of them stayed behind a row of large trash containers they placed across the road as a barricade.
A group of Armenian opposition parliamentarians and well-known public figures stood between the protesters and rows of police officers through the night in an effort to prevent another forcible dispersal of the crowd.
The police broke up a similar protest there the day before, arresting more than 230 of its participants as well as several journalists. All of them were set free by the time thousands of people again marched to Bagramian Avenue in the evening. Senior police officers assured organizers of the protest afterwards that they will not again use force, if the protest remains peaceful.
The mostly young protesters were joined by three dozen former and current opposition deputies, including Education Minister Armen Ashotian, prominent Armenian artists and other public figures. They stood in between the protesters and security forces armed with batons and shields.
One of the opposition lawmakers, Nikol Pashinian, said the “human shield” is meant to prevent fresh violence. “If somebody wants to perpetrate violence they can do that only over our bodies,” Pashinian told reporters. “We believe that renewed violence is inadmissible.”
Early on Wednesday police officers searched the trash containers tied together by ropes. Valeri Osipian, a deputy chief of the Yerevan police said, they are verifying “information” that sacks of stones are stashed inside the bins.
“Let nobody take offense because this is being done for our common security,” Osipian said. His officers found no such objects.
No To Plunder, a non-partisan youth movement leading the protests, was due to again rally thousands of supporters in the nearby Liberty Square later in the day. One of its leaders, Vaghinak Shushanian, said the protests will continue until the Armenian authorities revoke a decision by state regulators to raise electricity prices by more than 16 percent. He said the police crackdown only increased the number of people attending its rallies.
“We are not in a hurry,” Shushanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We have one month and ten days.”
The new energy tariffs set by the Public Services Regulatory Commission last week are supposed to take effect on August 1.