Armenian police disperse thousands protesting over energy prices

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2015 5:03 PM

By Hasmik Mkrtchyan

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenian police used water cannon to disperse thousands of people protesting in the capital Yerevan on Tuesday against a hike in electricity prices and detained more than 200 of them.

Opposition parties condemned the police action and demanded the release of the 237 held after a rally that showed heightened social tensions in the cash-strapped South Caucasus country.

A member of the opposition Armenian National Congress party, Aram Manukyan, criticized the price hike as a political move.

The rally, in which 14 demonstrators and 11 police were injured, began on Monday, when about 5,000 people marched to the presidential headquarters.

They were stopped by riot police and staged an overnight sit-in protest, blocking traffic on a central boulevard. They refused police requests to leave the road.

The protest, which was organized by young activists with no affiliation to any political parties, was triggered by the state regulatory commission's decision last week to increase the tariff on electricity by up to 22 percent from Aug. 1.

That rise followed a request by the electricity distribution company for Armenia's electricity network, a subsidiary of the Russian firm Inter RAO, which said the move followed a fall in Armenia's currency, the dram.

"Social conflict could grow in Armenia," Armenian economist Tatul Manaseryan told Reuters, warning of people's concerns that the dram had depreciated further and they would be unable to pay their electricity bills.

The former Soviet republic of 3.2 million people has been hit by the downturn in Russia, which has dented exports and remittances from Armenians working there.

Its economy is also affected by tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave that is inside Azerbaijan but has an ethnic Armenian majority.

The dram currency was trading around 471 to the dollar, compared with 407.6 drams a year ago.

Armenia's central bank left its main interest rate unchanged at 10.5 percent on Tuesday. Inflation is running at 5.1 percent.

(Writing by Margarita Antidze and Polina Devitt; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Louise Ireland)