Armenian protesters refuse to meet president, continue ‘Electric Yerevan’ sit-in
Protesters in the center of Yerevan have rejected an offer to meet with the Armenian president, choosing to continue their mass sit-in against electricity price hikes. The rally erupted in clashes after the crowd marched on the presidential residence.
Activists also demand that President Serzh Sargsyan address the nation via live broadcast and “explain” to the people the reason behind electricity hikes that escalated into mass protests on Monday and Tuesday. Organizers of the mass public outcry, the so-called 'No to Plunder' group, condemned “police brutality” during the clashes.
According to local media, representatives from the protest movement turned down a proposal to meet the Armenian president, offered under the condition that they would end their sit in. The crowd initially agreed to appoint several representatives, but after a long discussion, they “changed their mind,” AP reported.
While starting off as peaceful rally last week, by Monday some 5,000 protesters flooded the streets of the city center , chanting “No to robbery!” and “Don't slip your hands into our pockets!” The demonstrators marched from Yerevan’s central square towards the presidential headquarters, where they were blocked by riot police.
After the crowd refused to peacefully disperse, police deployed water cannons, eventually detaining 237 participants of the standoff, local media reports. Armenia’s health ministry said 25 people, including 11 police, were treated for injuries following clashes.
While protesters demand that authorities release those detained, the deputy head of the Armenian police in Yerevan, Colonel Valery Osipyan, told TASS that despite rumors everyone has already been released.
Meanwhile the prosecutor-general’s office said that it is looking into “hooliganism and disturbing public order” charges. Police in Yerevan also warned that that provocateurs are present among the sit-in crowd who might try to ignite violence.
The organizers and opposition politicians, who joined the rally on Tuesday, claimed one of their main goals would be to ensure that the protest runs peacefully and to “avoid clashes with police,” according to TASS.
On Tuesday the activists made their second attempt to march toward the presidential residence. The rally stretched along the Marshal Baghramyan Avenue in downtown Yerevan. Waving national flags they again demanded an end to electricity hikes. Meanwhile the number of riot police blocking the route to presidential administration also increased.
In essence the protesters are unhappy about the hike in electricity prices that are set to increase by 6.93 Dram ($0.0146) per kilowatt. The increase of around 17 percent starting August will result in some extra $85 being added to the average family’s electricity bills per year, according to the local press.
Meanwhile the protest is spreading across Armenia, to Gyumri and Vanadzor where a few hundred people also voiced their anger over the price hikes. Some analysts however view the events in Armenia as reminiscent of the Maidan movement in Kiev last year, where a specific grievance was used as a pretext to get people in the streets via social networks and spark mass riots that toppled the government.
“In the information space there are certain forces who want to see other processes behind this, political processes. It’s hard to say who is behind all of this, but it is clear that some Ukrainian news agencies want to see supporters of the Maidan behind it all, or as they call them, 'the organizers of the Armenian Maidan',” Armenian political scientist Hrant Melik-Shahnazaryan told Sputnik.
“They have already given the protests in Yerevan a name, calling them the 'RatesMaidan', and it is quite obvious that the forces in Ukraine seek to color the protests in the way which would be most advantageous for them to see,” he added.
Moscow, a close ally of Armenia meanwhile urged for a peaceful resolution to the increased tension.
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“Armenia is our closest partner, we share historical ties with Armenia and the Armenian people,” Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted Tuesday. “We hope that in the near future, this situation will be resolved in strict accordance with the law and there will be no violations of the law.”
Widespread anger, brewing for years but which has now spilled in the streets of Armenia, could be exploited for a new color revolution, the head of the International Action Centre Sara Flounders told RT.
“Armenia, a small country of 3 million people, is being squeezed from every side. And it’s feeling the impact of the US and EU sanctions on Russia, it is feeling the impact of the devaluation of its currency. But this recent rate increase is one more example that the so-called free market, the capitalist market in Armenia, has resulted in nothing but mass impoverishment for the population as a whole,” she said.
“And at the same time those who are creating the problem and the destabilization will attempt to use it for their own purposes, that is absolutely true,” she added. “So it could lead to a new round of the color revolutions, absolutely could. Because the capitalist market again and again will make resistance from people who know that they are paying the price for.”