Armenia: Post-Crackdown, Electric Yerevan Protest Resumes
Protesters against an electricity-price hike again gathered in the hundreds in downtown Yerevan on the evening of June 23 after police forcefully scattered the group earlier in the day.
Facing rows of police, the demonstrators whistled, clapped and chanted on the city’s central Liberty Square to condemn the government’s strong-arm response to their overnight sit-in against a 16-percent increase in electricity prices.
At daybreak, water canons had swept protesters off their feet and television footage showed several individuals beaten by plainclothes policemen on Baghramian Avenue, a key traffic artery. Two hundred and thirty-seven people were arrested, and prosecutors have formed a 20-member strong investigative group to back up criminal charges of hooliganism.
Opposition parties and human rights groups have lambasted the authorities for excessive use of force in breaking up the protest. The US embassy in Yerevan expressed concern over reports of violence and police attacks against journalists, and called for an investigation.
The renewed protests challenge the administration of President Serzh Sargsyan, long familiar with large-scale protests, to come up with a ready solution to the price problem. The website for the Armenian police was disabled earlier in the day in what some viewed as a hacker attack.
Regulators, however, continue to insist that the 16-percent electricity price increase, scheduled for August 1, is unavoidable. The power grid, like much of is Armenia’s energy supply, is owned and operated by a Russian company.
Perhaps with that connection in mind, some Russian media outlets have been quick to label the Yerevan demonstrations “Energy Maidan.”