The Armenia government offered on Monday to ease its planned restrictions on the use of right-hand drive cars in Armenia, bowing to protests staged by some of their owners.
Like most countries of the world, Armenia uses right-hand traffic which requires steering wheels to be on the left side of vehicles. Nevertheless, the authorities in Yerevan have not prevented imports of a growing number of right-hand drive cars over the past decade.
According to the Armenian traffic police, there are presently 32,000 such cars in the country. Most of them are cheap second-hand vehicles manufactured in Japan. Police officials say they cause a disproportionately large share of traffic accidents.
The Armenian Ministry of Transport and Communications recommended late last year a formal ban on imports of right-hand drive vehicles that would come into effect in April. A government decision drafted by the ministry would also ban sales or donations of such cars that are already in use in Armenia.
The move triggered a series of protests in Yerevan by angry car owners who say that it violates their property rights. They dismiss safety concerns cited by the ministry, saying that it has not come up with any statistics on the number of accidents caused by right-hand drive cars.
The protests resumed on Sunday, with dozens of cars driving through Yerevan and temporarily blocking traffic on some of its thoroughfares to demand that the government abandon its plans. They were about to continue on Monday when it emerged that the government is ready to make a major concession to the protesters.
An amended draft decision posted on a government website would allow them to continue using or reselling their cars in Armenia while maintaining the ban on car imports.
The protest organizers responded by cancelling a planned demonstration outside Prime Minister Karen Karapetian’s office. “We have achieved the fulfillment of our main demand,” said one of them.
The organizers made clear at the same time that they continue to demand that the government refrain from the import ban as well. They said they may therefore resume protests later this week.
A minority of the protesting drivers rejected the government concession and continued to demand a meeting with Karapetian.
Protest leaders were already received by Transport Minister Vahan Martirosian last month. A senior official from the Transport Ministry told them on Monday that the government is open to further discussions.
“You can again submit your proposals,” the official said. “We are ready to discuss them.”