Police used force on Friday against more than a dozen environmental activists who were camped in a public park in downtown Yerevan to protest against the construction of several shops there.
The Yerevan municipality authorized the construction after ordering the shop owners to relocate their businesses from large kiosks that stood on a major street in the city center until last month. They were dismantled along with hundreds of sidewalk kiosks across the Armenian capital.
Environment protection and other civic groups condemned the choice of a new location for the shops, saying that it would inflict further damage on Yerevan’s green areas that have shrunk significantly over the past decade. They also say that the municipal administration failed to follow all legal procedures before issuing the construction permit.
Dozens of mostly young activists have staged daily sit-ins in the park since Monday, preventing the construction from going ahead. Their representatives met with Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian earlier this week to demand that he scrap the controversial decision. Markarian rejected the demand.
Eyewitnesses said riot police pushed a group of protesters away from the construction site to allow workers to resume their work on Friday morning. The site was cordoned off by police officers as the activists continued to demonstrate nearby.
The protesters stood in the way of a heavy truck carrying concrete for the builders. The truck driver had to turn away and leave the scene after two young men lay on the ground in front of the vehicle.
The chief of Yerevan’s police department, Nerses Nazarian, arrived at the scene in the afternoon to urge the protesters not to interfere with the shop construction. The head of the municipality’s legal department, Zaven Arakelian, also addressed them, showing copies of documents purportedly proving the legality of the construction.
“All those decisions were made in breach of the law,” said Sona Ayvazian, an anti-corruption campaigner also taking part in the protest. “Therefore, they cannot be deemed legal.”