Police in Yerevan made two brief arrests on Thursday in fresh scuffles with dozens of mostly young activists campaigning against a sharp rise in the cost of public transport planned by the municipal administration.
The police used force to prevent the protesters from entering the municipality building to participate in a session of the city’s Council of Elders . The angry crowd was pushed back from its main entrance. Two activists were detained in the process. They both were released two hours later.
The protesters, who have held a nonstop sit-in in front of the Mayor’s Office for the past three months, sought to attend the session in order to read out a statement condemning the municipal authorities’ renewed plans to raise minibus and bus fares in Yerevan. One of their leaders had to publicize it outside the building.
“It’s been 100 days since our citizens began a sit-in here to demand the ouster of corrupt and criminal officials,” he said. “The Yerevan Council of Elders has not properly reacted to those demands, thereby becoming an accomplice to their crimes.” The municipal assembly dominated by government loyalists can no longer be considered a legitimate body, added the statement.
The incident came amid growing signs that Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian will again raise the transport fees by at least 50 percent soon. He already tried to do that in July but was forced to back down by an unprecedented campaign of civil disobedience involving street protests.
The activists continuing those protests are demanding the resignation of two senior municipal officials in charge of public transport. Markarian has refused to sack them.
The mayor formed last month an ad hoc commission tasked with looking into the Armenian capital’s transport system and proposing solutions to its problems. The commission is widely expected to conclude that fare hikes are indispensable not least because of a recent surge in the price of Russian natural gas.
Virtually all buses and minibuses in Yerevan run on liquefied gas.