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Dozens of street traders demonstrated in the central Armenian town of Charentsavan for the fourth consecutive day on Monday against local authorities trying to collect taxes from them.

The mostly low-income traders selling fruit and vegetables began a sit-in in the main town square on Friday after being warned to finally register with tax authorities and pay taxes. They have to purchase cash registers that are used for determining the amount of taxable revenues of many businesses in Armenia.

The traders, who have operated without official registration until now reject this demand, saying that payment of value-added and other taxes would make them bankrupt. They say they are only ready to pay a single fixed tax levied from small businesses.

“Why don’t they set some reasonable [fixed] fee?” one man told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We will keep working if we can pay it. If not, we won’t work.”

“What do we sell? A couple of cabbages, half of which rot,” complained another, female vendor.

“We work like donkeys but they won’t let us enjoy the fruits of our work,” she said. “What can we do? We want to live.”

Arman Zargarian, head of the Charentsavan branch of the State Revenue Committee (SRC), dismissed those demands, saying that the protesters are effectively demanding privileged treatment from the government. “I can’t understand reasons for their discontent,” he said.

“These economic entities have no idea about taxation,” Zargarian told RFE/RL’s Armenia service (Azatutyun.am). “How can we talk about raising or lowering taxes when people are doing business illegally?”

The official warned that the traders will face heavy fines if they continue to avoid taxes. “Those financial penalties would be much higher than what the taxes required from them,” he said.

Located 30 kilometers north of Yerevan, Charentsavan was once an industrial town with several major factories. Most of those Soviet-era plants have stood idle since the early 1990s, resulting in very high unemployment.
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