Armenians press energy price protests for third day

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 24, 2015 10:48 AM

By Hasmik Mkrtchyan

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Hundreds of Armenians staged a third day of demonstrations in the capital Yerevan on Wednesday against a hike in electricity prices, but fewer took part in the protests and there were no reports of any serious violence.

The demonstrators, mostly young activists, continued a sit-in protest on one of Yerevan's main avenues near the presidential palace, but police did not deploy water cannon as they had on Tuesday.

The protests, sparked by a 22 percent hike in electricity prices, have raised social tensions in the cash-strapped southern Caucasus nation of 3.2 million and prompted fears in Armenia's ally Russia that outside forces might be stirring the discontent.

"We will stay here until our demand - the cancellation of the decision to raise electricity prices - is fulfilled," Vaghinak Shushanyan, one of the activists, told reporters.

In Monday's protest rally 14 demonstrators and 11 police were wounded when riot police stopped a crowd of around 5,000 marching on the presidential palace. On Tuesday police detained about 200 people but later released them.

There were fewer police deployed on Wednesday but dozens were still stationed on the central Bagramyan avenue, where protesters had used garbage bins to construct barricades.

The state regulatory commission last week increased the electricity tariff by up to 22 percent from Aug. 1 after the distribution company for Armenia's electricity network, a subsidiary of the Russian firm Inter RAO, said it was needed because of the fall in Armenia's dram currency.

Russia is the main supplier of energy to Armenia and the two countries have close political and economic ties. Upheaval in other former Soviet states, such as Ukraine and Georgia, have increased concern in Russia over potential instability at home.

Moscow accuses Western countries of stirring up discontent in Ukraine which resulted in the overthrow of its pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich in early 2014.

Armenia has been hard hit by an economic downturn in Russia, which has dented the tiny landlocked country's exports and remittances from Armenians working in Russian cities and towns.

"Armenia will certainly face a long hot summer, although driven less by the weather and more by mounting dissent and discontent," Richard Giragosian, director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Centre, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting and writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Gareth Jones)