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Armenian Opposition Demands Action On Utilities' Lawsuit

Armenia -- Armenian opposition supporters protest gas price hikes, Yerevan, 16Apr2010

Armenia -- Armenian opposition supporters protest gas price hikes, Yerevan, 16Apr2010

YEREVAN -- More than 1,000 opposition supporters have marched to Armenia's Administrative Court in support of an opposition lawsuit challenging a recent rise in the price of natural gas, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) allowed the ArmRosGazprom (ARG) national gas distributor in late February to increase its gas tariff for households by 37.5 percent, to 132 drams ($0.33) per cubic meter, because of the increased cost of Russian gas imported to Armenia.

The gas price for corporate consumers was raised by 17 percent. The new tariffs took effect on April 1.

The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has been among the most vocal critics of the unpopular measure, which it says is economically unjustified and unjust.

More than 7,000 people signed up for its class-action lawsuit that was formally filed earlier this month. The plaintiffs want the administrative court to invalidate the price hike on the grounds that the PSRC violated several provisions of an Armenian law regulating its work. Both the regulatory body and ARG deny the violations.

The court recently agreed to consider what appears to be the biggest class-action suit in Armenia's history. But it controversially decided to hold hearings on the matter under a so-called written procedure that does not involve public hearings and oral presentations of the parties' arguments.

HAK leaders condemned that decision as they led the crowd to the court building in Yerevan's southern Shengavit district on April 16.

"This is what the authorities are afraid of," said Levon Zurabian, the HAK's central office coordinator. "They don't want public and open court hearings on the issue."

A petition demanding public hearings was handed to court officials during the protest. The court has not yet announced when it will start considering the suit.