The Armenian police renewed on Sunday their threats to forcibly break up continuing nonstop demonstrations in Yerevan against a controversial increase in electricity prices.
Colonel Valeri Osipian, a deputy chief of the Yerevan police, said security forces will “try to restore public order” if Marshal Bagramian Avenue, a key thoroughfare leading to the presidential palace, remains blocked by protesters after 11:00 pm local time
“Within the framework of the law, the police will take measures to restore public order on Bagramian Avenue and punish delinquent persons,” Osipian told reporters at the scene of the protests.
The stern warning came the day after President Serzh Sarkisian offered concessions to the protesters. He said the Armenian government will subsidize the electricity tariffs to make sure that Armenian households are unaffected, at least for now, by a more than 17 percent price hike, which was supposed to take effect on August 1.
Sarkisian said the government will “bear the burden” of the hike until the completion of an international audit of Armenia’s Russian-owned power distribution network. In his words, the audit will determine whether higher tariffs are indeed indispensable to sort out the network’s financial troubles.
The concessions seemingly failed to satisfy most protesters and No To Plunder, a youth movement leading the campaign for a reversal of the unpopular measure. No To Plunder leaders urged supporters to gather on Marshal Bagramian Avenue at 6 pm on Sunday in large numbers and discuss and determine the group’s official response to the president’s decision.
Using a water cannon, the police already dispersed early on Tuesday hundreds of mostly young activists camped out on the Yerevan street. More than 230 people, including several journalists, were detained. They all were set free by the time thousands of Armenians again occupied the street section on Tuesday evening.
The United States, the European Union and Western human rights watchdogs criticized that violent crackdown, saying that the police used excessive force against the protesters. They also denounced police violence against reporters covering the crackdown.