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Armenian Protesters Defy Police Warning To Disperse

Protesters Remain In Central Yerevan Despite Police Warnings
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WATCH: Protesters Remain In Central Yerevan Despite Police Warnings

Thousands of antigovernment demonstrators in the Armenian capital continue to protest on Yerevan's central Baghramian Avenue defying repeated calls by police to leave the avenue.

Police chief Vladimir Gasparian told activists in the evening on June 28 to move to the nearby Liberty Square.

Earlier in the evening, Gasparian gave protesters 30 minutes to leave Baghramian Avenue, warning police would move to "restore public order" otherwise.

Most of the demonstrators, however, ignored the warning and began sit-in protests on Baghramian Avenue.

Activists from the so-called Electric Yerevan protest movement have been on the streets of central Yerevan for more than a week to protest against a decision by the state's tariff-setting body to raise energy prices by some 16 percent starting August 1.

There are many women and children among the protesters, with some children holding banners.

A police statement earlier warned parents not to allow their underage children to remain among the protesters.

Valeri Osipian, the deputy head of Yerevan police, on June 28
Valeri Osipian, the deputy head of Yerevan police, on June 28

​Valeri Osipian, a deputy chief of the Yerevan police, said there are people are protesters who have explosive devices. Osipian didn’t elaborate.

Police officials also said there were "provocateurs" among the protesters who sought to "politicize" the demonstration.

Police have also demanded media workers to leave the area and not to hinder police actions.

The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan expressed concern over the "tense situation" in central Yerevan.

The embassy via Twitter urged "all sides to display peaceful, restrained behavior befitting democratic values."

Meanwhile, several lawmakers, showbiz representatives, and other prominent public figures came to the avenue to form a "human shield" between protesters and police.

Opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian said police have no grounds to disperse a peaceful demonstration.

A heavy riot police presence could be seen in the area, with hundreds of officers lining up in rows near the protesters.

WATCH: Yerevan police chief confronts protesters

Yerevan Police Chief Gasparian Confronts Protesters
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Police have cordoned off Baghramian Avenue and aren't allowing anyone to enter it.

Some of the protesters, including representatives of the No To Plunder group, have moved to Liberty Square.

No To Plunder, which initiated the protests on June 19, has largely accepted President Serzh Sarkisian's compromise plan to defuse the crisis, and urged its supporters to end the street blockade in central Yerevan.

The group said it will continue to protest "through other platforms."

The group's leader, Maksim Sarkisian (no relation to President Sarkisian), told his supporters at Liberty Square that that the demonstrators who remained in Baghramian Avenue have "changed the demands."

On June 27, President Sarkisian said his government would take upon itself the “burden of the increased prices” until an independent audit determines whether the planned utility price hike by the Russian-owned electricity company is justified.

Protesters on Yerevan's Baghramian Street on June 28
Protesters on Yerevan's Baghramian Street on June 28

“Of course, we will not endanger the current social-spending programs, but we will find funds from resources meant for further strengthening of security," Sarkisian said after meeting senior officials in Yerevan.

He said the rate hikes would go ahead if the independent audit found them to be justified.

Sarkisian's announcement followed a meeting the night before with Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov, who co-chairs a Russian-Armenian economic commission.

Activists called on Armenians to turn out on the Baghramian Avenue on the evening of June 28 for a vote on Sarkisian's offer to defuse the crisis.

They have said that they will not leave the avenue until Sarkisian announces the cancellation of the tariffs on national television.

They also want punishment for the police officers who beat activists and journalists in a violent breakup of June 23 protests.

Earlier on June 28, Osipian said that he expects the protesters to leave the protest venue and end the street blockade.

“Within the framework of the law the police will use available means to restore public order in Baghramian Avenue,” Osipian warned. “The offenders will be punished.”

Follow all of the action on the live stream of RFE/RL's Armenian Service, which is live at the scene of the protests as tensions mount.