Activists gathering in the central square of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, this week are going to continue their protests against electricity price hikes that they originally planned to end on Thursday night.
They say they have decided to stay put in Republic Square because several hundred police officers deployed there have not allowed them to stage a proper sit-in.
Rise Armenia, a recently formed civic group, wants the authorities to reverse their decision to raise electricity prices from August 1 even despite the subsidy promised for the hike.
Activists believe this subsidy still has to be paid from “taxpayer money” unless the government clearly indicates the so-called “extra-budgetary” source of financing.
On Thursday morning when the prime minister chaired the last Cabinet meeting before summer recess, government officials made no reference to the protesters’ demands. Neither did they explain the source from where the government will offset the 16-percent rise in electricity tariffs to the Electric Networks of Armenia, a local subsidiary of Russia’s Inter RAO.
In the meantime, leaders of Rise Armenia insist that they will not cease their protests, accusing the police of restricting their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly.
“In fact our sit-down strike did not take place in the venue where we originally wanted it to be held, and so we are still here,” David Sanasarian, a protest leader and opposition member of the Yerevan City Council, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) in the afternoon.
“The government has not made any decision regarding the electricity price hike and now we are going to decide on our next steps,” he added.
Sanasarian, who along with several other activists, has tried to block traffic in the streets adjacent to Republic Square, was hospitalized late on Wednesday. He insists that he felt bad after being manhandled by police officers.
“They seize and carry you away by the arms and legs and then they let your arms go first and you hit the ground with your back,” Sanasarian explained. “They treated not only me like that, but also several other activists.”
Representatives of the police have denied the accusations.
Members of Rise Armenia, meanwhile, have promised new “surprises” and possibly changes in the tactics of their campaign.