Activists from the so-called "Electric Yerevan" protest movement that has rallied thousands of supporters in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in weeklong protests against electricity price hikes say certain “suspicious people” have begun to harass members of the group as well as peaceful demonstrators.
In a statement on June 27, the No To Plunder activists called on Armenian officials to pay attention to the issue and urged law-enforcement bodies "not to try to threaten us and to act strictly within the boundaries of the law."
They did not disclose any specific cases of harassment.
Protesters insist that President Serzh Sarkisian revoke a June 17 decision by the state's tariff-setting body raising energy prices by some 16 percent starting August 1.
They have said that they will not leave the avenue until Sarkisian announces the cancellation of the tariffs on national television.
They are also demanding that the current tariff be reconsidered and lowered, and they want punishment for the police officers who beat activists and journalists in a violent breakup of June 23 protests.
Armenian police chief Vladimir Gasparian has called on electricity price protesters who continue to block a central street in Yerevan to show "common sense" and end a street blockade in the capital city he said is "hindering" ordinary life.
Gasparian talked to several members of parliament who had come to Marshal Baghramian Avenue to stand as “human shields” between security personnel and the protesters to ensure riot police do not take violent action against the crowd.
He asked them to urge the young activists to unblock the avenue, which is one of the central thoroughfares near the state administration buildings of Armenia, including President Serzh Sarkisian’s offices.
“We show tolerance and exercise restraint, but you obstruct the vital functions of the city," Gasparian said. "Now you form a 'human shield' as if we are enemies of our people."
"Tell the young people that we perceive their action philosophically, but it does not mean that they must block the whole of Yerevan.... Police will not take action against citizens if they remain within the boundaries of the law. Do not block the city.”
Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian (right) and Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov at a press conference in Yerevan on June 26.
Demonstrators on June 26 had briefly blocked a square adjacent to Baghramian Avenue, paralyzing traffic there. But after calls from police they moved out of the traffic junction.
On June 27, police said they had detained one demonstrator with a gun. They identified the man as Tigran Rostomian, 23, and said that his gun was confiscated after he was taken to a nearby police station.
In Gyumri, the second-largest Armenian city, where citizens have also held protests against rising electricity prices, police detained two people who took part in a recent march.
According to a report, one of them possessed a substance “looking like marijuana” and the other had a folding knife.
Police said they confiscated the drugs and knife and were investigating the matter.
In Yerevan, Sarkisian and Russian Transportation Minister Maksim Sokolov on June 26 commissioned a joint audit of the Russian-owned company that operates Armenia’s power grid.
Armenian opposition and civic groups have accused the Electric Networks of Armenia of corruption and mismanagement, arguing that it can operate at a profit even without applying for higher electricity tariffs.
Vaghinak Shushanian, one of the leaders of the No To Plunder group that leads the protests, described the move as “belated.”
No To Plunder activists continued to insist that Sarkisian revoke a June 17 decision by the state's tariff-setting body raising energy prices by some 16 percent starting August 1.
They also are demanding that the current tariff be reconsidered and lowered, and they want punishment for the police officers who beat activists and journalists in a violent breakup of June 23 protests.
Sarkisian told the Russia official that while some analysts “try to look for anti-Russian sentiments” behind the protests against electricity price hikes in Yerevan, he is glad that the protesters themselves dismiss this speculation as "nonsense."
He added that he endorsed the unpopular rate hikes as necessary because of the depreciation of the national currency and the increased cost of energy production.
Sarkisian said the government will subsidize the rising cost of tariffs for some 105,000 low-income families, or some 400,000 citizens, by increasing their social allowances.
Sokolov said the audit of the electric company’s activities will be organized by an Intergovernmental Commission, with the involvement of experts and representatives of all the parties concerned.
The process will be open and transparent, he said, so that the results of the audit will be clear and unambiguous to everyone.