Several hundred Armenians protesting against an electricity price hike again rallied in Yerevan but avoided reoccupying one of the city’s main thoroughfares late on Monday hours after being driven out of there by riot police.
The rally in the pedestrian Liberty Square began shortly after the police released all 46 protesters who were detained during the break-up of a two-week nonstop demonstration on Marshal Bagramian Avenue earlier in the afternoon.
The detainees included virtually all current leaders of the so-called “Electric Yerevan” movement that has forced the Armenian government to effectively suspend the more than 17 percent rise in energy tariffs.
The young leaders struck a defiant note as they addressed the people gathered in the square. But citing the need to avoid fresh clashes with the police, they stopped short of announcing another march to Marshal Bagramian Avenue. They decided instead to march through the city center on Thursday.
“We need some rest,” one of the activists, Narek Ayvazian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said he and his comrades have been exhausted by the around-the-clock sit-in on the avenue leading to President Serzh Sarkisian’s residence.
“I promise you that we will again go to Bagramian [avenue,]” another “Electric Yerevan” leader, Davit Sanasarian, told the demonstrators. “The police, the authorities are really scared.”
Sanasarian complained at the same time about the small number of people who have attended the protests over the past week, implying that it is not enough to trouble the Armenian authorities. He said he is going on hunger strike in a bid to attract people’s attention and get more of them to join the campaign.
“We are waiting for you,” said another speaker, appealing to the nation. “All Armenian people must rise up for this struggle.”
The protests attracted thousands of people until President Serzh Sarkisian announced on June 27 that the government will cover the cost of the electricity price hike until the end of an international audit of Armenia’s electric utility. The audit is meant to determine whether the unpopular measure is economically justified or results from fraud and mismanagement with the Russian-owned company.
Several dozen protesters tried to stage a march later in the evening, but they were stopped by police officers deployed at the square. “Electric Yerevan” leaders were not among them.