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Armenian Opposition Suit Against Gas-Price Hike Rejected

Armenian opposition supporters protest gas-price hikes in Yerevan in April.

Armenian opposition supporters protest gas-price hikes in Yerevan in April.

YEREVAN -- An Armenian court has rejected an opposition lawsuit challenging a sharp rise in the price of natural gas that was approved by state regulators earlier this year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The Armenian Public Services Regulatory Commission gave permission to the ArmRosGazprom (ARG) national gas distributor to increase its gas tariff for households by 37.5 percent because of the increased cost of Russian gas imports.

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), which filed the court case, has been among the biggest critics of the unpopular price increase, which it says is economically unjustified and unfair. More than 7,000 people signed up for its class-action lawsuit.

The plaintiffs demanded the scrapping of the price hike on the grounds the commission violated several provisions of a law regulating its work. The regulatory commission and ARG deny the violations.

The court backed the commission's arguments, saying that fair utility tariffs do not necessarily have to be low. The panel of five judges read out the 31-page verdict in an almost empty courtroom.

Vahe Hovsepian, an HAK lawyer, criticized the ruling, saying the plaintiffs will appeal it at the Court of Cassation.

"We just need to complete this procedure [in Armenia] in order to go to the European Court of Human Rights [in Strasbourg]," he told RFE/RL.

Hovsepian again criticized the court for having held hearings on the case under a so-called "written procedure" that does not involve public hearings and oral presentations of the parties' arguments. He said that made things easier for the regulatory commission and Armenia's gas operator.

The government has repeatedly defended the price hike.

In an effort to mitigate its socioeconomic impact on the most vulnerable members of the population, the government approved in late March a more than 10 percent increase in pensions and poverty benefits.