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Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian said through a spokeswoman on Friday that he will not lift his predecessor’s controversial ban on street trade that affected thousands of people earning a modest living.

Karen Karapetian, the former mayor, imposed the ban shortly after taking office in December 2010. Police quickly cleared city sidewalks of people selling agricultural and other products. Some of them staged angry protests outside the mayor’s office.

Karapetian’s unexpected resignation in late October raised hopes among them. A group of former traders wrote to Markarian recently, asking him to reconsider the decision that stripped them of their main source of income.

Armenia -- The inaugural ceremony of newly elected mayor of Yerevan Taron Markarian, Yerevan, 18Nov2011

Armenia -- The inaugural ceremony of newly elected mayor of Yerevan Taron Markarian, Yerevan, 18Nov2011

“Taron Markarian has repeatedly stated that he will be consistent in preventing illegal open-air trade,” Shushan Sardarian, the mayor’s press secretary, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “There is no policy change. There will be no illegal street trade.”

Sardarian said that people should engage in “more civilized trade” at open-air markets that have been opened in the Armenian capital over the past year.

Many street vendors counter that they cannot do a brisk trade there or pay daily fees to market owners.

Despite being declared illegal, street trading has not completely disappeared from the Yerevan streets. A small number of mostly female vendors can still be seen standing on sidewalks and selling foodstuffs and cheap consumer goods in the city center. They say they are being regularly rounded up by police and municipal officials.

“I stand on the street and hold produce in my hands,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Some people think I’m a beggar. But I tell them that I don’t beg, I sell greens.”

“I have gone underground,” said another woman. “Buyers understand that [the ban] was all about giving some people extra profits, rather than building a civilized country.”

The former mayor also sparked controversy by ordering the dismantling of hundreds of retail kiosks across the Armenian capital. Faced with angry protests by some kiosk owners and concerns voiced by central government officials and parliamentarians, the Yerevan municipality pledged to scale back the process in September.
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