Leaders of the protesters continuing to occupy a central Yerevan avenue on Saturday threatened to advance further towards the presidential palace if the Armenian authorities fail to formally revoke a controversial rise in electricity prices.
They gave the authorities until Monday evening to meet their demands or face a new, “decisive phase” of their “Electric Yerevan” campaign.
“If we don’t get an answer we will start moving the barricade [built on Marshal Bagramian Avenue] one step forward every day,” one of the protest leaders, Davit Sanasarian, told several hundred people rallying on a section of the avenue that has been blocked for almost two weeks.
Sanasarian said this change of tactics will “refresh our civic struggle” and force the Armenian government to stop “ignoring” it. “We are not out to wage a battle. We will carry on with our peaceful but steadfast struggle,” he added.
A senior police officer at the scene, Colonel Valeri Osipian, was quick to approach Sanasarian after his speech and warn him against escalating their standoff with the government.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Osipian accused the protest leaders of seeking to provoke clashes with riot police units deployed nearby in a bid to attract more people to their campaign. He said security forces will not allow them to move the barricade closer to President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration building located several hundred meters away.
The police already used force to unblock Marshal Bagramian on June 23 one day after thousands of people rallied there in protest against the more than 17 percent energy price hike. The use of force only caused more Armenians to march to the avenue later on June 23. The police have since avoided any attempts to break up the nonstop demonstration.
Attendance at the protesters declined dramatically after Sarkisian announced on June 27 that the government will cover the cost of the price hike for the time being. No To Plunder, a youth group that launched the protests, was rebuffed by the protesters when it urged them to leave the avenue and rally in pedestrian Liberty Square on June 28.
A group of other young activists, including Sanasarian, took over the movement in the following days. They have failed to reinvigorate it so far.