Police Clear Electric Yerevan’s Protest Avenue
Police on July 6 opened the epicenter of Yerevan’s mass protests, Baghramian Avenue, to traffic and closed it to rallies. They encountered little resistance when clearing the barricades and then cordoning off the perimeter of the avenue, a key thoroughfare blocked by demonstrators for the past two weeks.
For some observers, the July 6 response was not unexpected. The day before, some of the protest leaders had threatened to move their barricade of dumpsters gradually toward President Serzh Sargsyan’s office unless the government reversed a plan to increase electricity prices by 16 percent and punished alleged police abuses during an earlier dispersal of the demonstration, on June 23.
Officials had given no sign of yielding on the prices, though regulators told news outlets earlier in the day that the Russian-owned Electric Networks of Armenia will be fined 75 million drams ($158,388) on July 8 for alleged irregularities in connecting clients to the power grid and billing them.
If that was the carrot, though, the police provided the stick. Citing a supposedly planned “provocation,” they warned on July 5 they would take action to break up the gathering.
The overall police response, witnessed on a live video feed, appeared peaceful, however.
Police told Kavkazky Uzel they arrested 46 people in the cleanup, but released them all. Their earlier crackdown on the demonstration, on June 23, had resulted in some 240 arrests, but failed to end the demonstration, which continued to snowball, spreading to the regions.
Yerevan’s Deputy Police Chief Valeri Osipian on July 6 promised to release the June 23 detainees if protesters withdraw from Baghramian Avenue.
As traffic started flowing again on Baghramian in the early afternoon, police said that the demonstration can continue -- on the sidewalks, for instance, or in other areas that will not block traffic.
By midday, it was unclear what course of action the protesters would take. They appear to remain divided about an earlier government-proposed compromise. Dancing seems to have prevailed over details, even in 97-degree-Fahrenheit weather.
Stoking concerns that the post-Soviet world was headed toward yet another political upheaval, Electric Yerevan originally ranked as the largest act of civil disobedience in recent years, and the biggest public demonstration since the short-lived 2013 Barevolution.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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