Activists gathering in the central square of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, this week have pledged to keep up the pressure on the authorities to rescind their decision on raising electricity prices beginning next month.
The recently formed civic group, Rise Armenia, estimates that the police have deployed more than a thousand personnel to prevent only a few dozen of its members from occupying the central spot of Republic Square where the main government offices of Armenia are located.
Following two weeks of considerably larger street protests in late June and early July that had been initiated by another civil group, No To Plunder, and brought together thousands of mostly young men and women angered by the expected rate hikes, the Armenian government agreed to fully subsidize the price rise pending the outcome of an international audit of the Russian-owned company that runs Armenia’s power grid.
While a majority of protesters spurned that ‘compromise’ move, the wave of demonstrations eventually subsided and the barricades built by activists in Yerevan’s central Baghramian Avenue, just a few hundred meters from the presidential administration building, were forcefully dismantled and the protesters were dispersed by the police on July 6.
Rise Armenia, the more radical group that emerged during those protests, has vowed to seek a cancellation of the decision that it says still affects Armenian citizens as taxpayers. Government officials say the 16-percent electricity price hike effective from August 1 will be subsidized from “extra-budgetary” means, but do not elaborate on the source of financing.
Andrias Ghukasian, one of the Rise Armenia coordinators, says they are going to stay put in Republic Square at least until July 30 when the next government session is due to take place.
The former presidential candidate believes the government will need to “make its decision” then on how it is going to subsidize the rise in electricity tariffs. “This decision may become an occasion for a larger-scale protest,” he asserted.
According to Ghukasian, the authorities’ response to their current campaigns of civil disobedience, including the prohibition of their sit-in in the middle of the square, shows that “they realize that any small-scale action may very rapidly grow into a bigger protest.”
“A large-scale propaganda campaign is on in the country to show that the movement has faded away, but the response from the police that we’ve seen proves that the authorities have a different perspective on this matter,” he added.
Police officers have not prevented Rise Armenia activists from holding their demonstrations on the sidewalks adjacent to Republic Square, but have warned them that their intention to occupy the oval-shaped no-traffic zone in the middle of the square and stage a sit-in there is “unlawful”. Rise Armenia members, in their turn, accuse the police of restricting their rights to freedom of movement and assembly.
On Tuesday night about a score of activists made more attempts to block traffic at crosswalks near Republic Square and in the adjacent streets. They say with their actions they try to draw greater public attention to their campaign.