By Hovannes Shoghikian
Dozens of angry taxi drivers appeared to have clinched concessions from the government on Thursday after again gathering outside its headquarters in Yerevan in protest against new licensing rules that could cost them their jobs.
The rules, which were due to take effect on August 1, would require taxi companies and independent cab drivers to pay an annual state duty of 200,000 drams ($590) for each of their cars. More importantly, they would be banned from using vehicles manufactured more than 10 years ago.
Virtually all of the protesters are self-employed and have older cars. They were parked in the city’s central Republic Square just opposite the Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s office for the second consecutive day. Traffic police tried in vain to keep the convoy from entering the sprawling square on Thursday.
Several organizers of the protest, which coincided with a weekly session of Sarkisian’s cabinet, were then received by the chief of the government staff, Manuk Topuzian. They emerged from the building an hour later, saying that Topuzian assured them that the government will delay enforcement of the measure.
“We were told that they will postpone it for six months,” said one driver. “But we want it to be postponed for at least one-and-a-half years.”
Armen Martirosian, an opposition parliamentarian who joined the protesters after attending the government meeting, quoted Sarkisian as telling ministers that the new licensing rules were not “well thought-out.” “Your struggle has effectively born fruit,” Martirosian told the protesters.
Also protesting outside the government building were several dozen former employees of the now defunct Armenian Airlines and residents of another old Yerevan neighborhood slated for demolition. The ex-pilots have for years been demanding payment of their back wages, while the residents seek government assurances that they will be properly compensated for the loss of their homes.