It remained unclear, however, how many more small shops in the Armenian capital will be dismantled by the municipal administration.
Sarkisian demanded explanations from Karapetian during a weekly session of his cabinet, echoing concerns expressed by hundreds of shopkeepers.
“We must inform our citizens that there will be no mass closure of functioning kiosks … because people are worried that thousands of kiosks are to be shut down,” he said. “There will be individual approaches and kiosks will be dismantled only in case of extreme necessity, if they don’t create problems for the municipal infrastructure.”
Armenia - Yerevan Mayor Karen Karapetian speaks about the dismantling of kiosks at a central government meeting, 11Aug2011.
“That’s right, Mr. Prime Minister. This is definitely the case,” replied Karapetian.
“This is an extremely important statement because in their letters sent to the government these days our citizens say that many of them have unpaid loans,” continued Sarkisian. “Some of them, heeding appeals from the heads of district administrations, have remodeled their kiosks, painted them, spent money, and if [their businesses] are dismantled now, they will find themselves in a severe financial situation.”
In his somewhat contradictory and ambiguous remarks to the central government, Karapetian claimed that his controversial decision to regulate retail trade has primarily targeted 1,180 “idling” kiosks. He said 912 of them have been dismantled since the beginning of the year.
The Yerevan mayor did not specify how many of more than 2,200 other, functioning kiosks will be forced to close. He said that the municipal authorities are only dismantling those businesses that lack valid government licenses or are located on “central streets” and “interfere with the normal work of the city.”
Risking further controversy, Karapetian added, “I don’t think that there are poor people among the owners of kiosks on central streets, and the Mayor’s Office has no obligations to them … We are not obliged to give them an alternative [source of income] or compensation.”
Armenia - Kiosk owners protest outside the main government building in Yerevan, 11Aug2011.
The municipality and district administrations subordinate to it, he said, will only help “socially vulnerable people working there.” “That individual work is now being done, either through giving them a new place to do business or financial compensation,” he said.
Contradicting the mayor, Prime Minister Sarkisian noted, however, that the district administrations will be “conducting individual work with kiosk owners so that they have no social problems.”
“In recent days I have noticed internal tension between the government and the mayor’s office. Yerevan seems like a state within our state,” said Anahit Bakhshian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party strongly opposed to the kiosk closures.
Bakhshian spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service as she participated in a demonstration staged outside the government headquarters by several dozen kiosk owners.
Some of the protesters clashed on Wednesday with riot police called in to enforce the closure of about a dozen kiosks in the city’s northern Arabkir district. The forcible demolitions there reportedly continued on Thursday.