Armenian Protest Enters Third Day
YEREVAN — A standoff between riot police and demonstrators protesting a hike in electricity prices is blocking the central avenue in the Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, for the third day running.
Hundreds of protesters spent the night behind a row of large trash containers they had placed across the road as a barricade.
On the morning of June 24, Yerevan police chief Ashot Karapetian appealed to the protesters to disperse peacefully.
Up to 7,000 protesters flooded Yerevan’s central Freedom Square on the evening of June 23 before staging a march toward the presidential palace.
But the crowd was stopped on Baghramian Avenue by riot police, and the protesters blocked traffic the main thoroughfare in the city center.
The demonstrators have been demanding that authorities revoke a decision by state regulators to raise electricity prices by 7 drams (about $0.02) per kilowatt/hour. The 16 percent price hike is due to come into effect on August 1.
Armenian political parties reacted to the continuing civil protests by sending some lawmakers to spend the night in Baghramian Avenue, forming a “live” shield between the police and the protesters.
Yerevan’s police deputy chief, Valeri Osipian, described the rally as “unlawful” and announced that all those activists detained at the previous rally had been released.
President Serzh Sarkisian, meanwhile, renewed his offer to meet the protest leaders and discuss their demands.
Earlier, shortly after dawn on June 23, police used water cannons and batons to violently break up a peaceful sit-in protest on Baghramyan Avenue — just a few hundred meters from Sarkisian’s administration building.
More than 230 activists were detained and many were manhandled in the process.
Journalists who documented the police violence were also detained and beaten, with many having their equipment smashed and their footage confiscated.
WATCH: Armenian Protest Live Stream (natural sound)
RFE/RL’s editor in chief, Nenad Pejic, protested the use of violence by police against RFE/RL journalists and other members of the media covering the demonstrations, saying, “Our colleagues were doing their job, reporting for the benefit of the Armenian public. We condemn such interference.”
“This was a brutal and unacceptable attack, outside any norms of acceptable police behavior,” added RFE/RL’s Armenian Service Director Harry Tamrazian.
The U.S. Embassy in Armenia said it was concerned by police violence and called for a “full and transparent investigation.”
“We are troubled by reports that journalists and their equipment were specifically targeted during the operation,” the embassy said.
Dirk Lorenz, acting head of the EU delegation in Yerevan, called for an “impartial” inquiry into the violence.
“A genuine dialogue between authorities and the civil society is the only way to overcome tough and unpopular economic decisions,” he added.
The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) called on the authorities to “take steps to ensure restraint on the part of law enforcement representatives toward members of the media.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was monitoring developments in Yerevan “very closely.”
“Armenia is our closest partner,” he told reporters. “We hope the situation will be settled in the near future in strict accordance with the law.”
The opposition Armenian National Congress party boycotted a parliament session in protest against the police crackdown.
Sarkisian has not yet commented on the protest.
WATCH: Armenian Police Forcibly Disperse Protesters On June 23