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Armenian Police Forcefully Disperse Yerevan Protesters, 18 Injured

Armenian Police Use Force To Disperse Protests
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WATCH: Armenian police use force to disperse protests

Armenian police used force and water cannons to clear a demonstration in central Yerevan overnight after a standoff with activists protesting against rising electricity prices.

In the early hours of June 23, special police forces moved to disperse hundreds of protesters who spent more than nine hours seated in the street not far from the presidential compound.

The protesters insisted that their actions were peaceful and demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian revoke the decision made by state regulators to raise electricity prices by 16 percent beginning August 1.

After several warnings that the protest was “unlawful,” the police started their operation at around 5:30 a.m.

RFE/RL Armenian Service correspondents witnessed demonstrators being roughed up and chased, with some of them injured in the scuffle.

Many demonstrators were also detained and taken to police stations in vehicles. Journalists were among those detained.

PHOTO GALLERY: Dramatic images from the protest

Armenian police spokesman Ashot Aharonyan told Interfax that 237 people were arrested. He said seven demonstrators and 11 police officers were injured in the clashes, with three protesters being hospitalized.

A number of media representatives were also subjected to violence during the events, including a cameraman from RFE/RL's Armenian Service, who was beaten by riot police. Police also roughed up several other members of the RFE/RL crew working at the protest site; one of them was briefly detained.

At least one RFE/RL camera used for providing live streaming of the unfolding drama was broken by the police. Other equipment used by RFE/RL correspondents was also damaged and memory cards were confiscated.

Senior police officers dismissed complaints from Armenian Service correspondents.

The clashes on Baghramyan Avenue followed three days of protests in a nearby square by activists from a pressure group called No To Plunder.

The protesters ended up sitting in the street in the center of the city after about 5,000 had staged a march toward the presidential palace but were stopped midway by a heavy police cordon. They eventually decided to proceed with their strike seated on the approaches to the thoroughfare.

Meanwhile, groups of citizens also reportedly staged protests against rising electricity prices elsewhere in the country overnight.

The power company said the rise in electricity rates is tied to the fall in Armenia's currency, the dram. The electricity distribution company for Armenia's electricity network, a subsidiary of the Russian firm Inter RAO, asked for the increase.

The dram was trading around 473 to the dollar on June 22, compared with 407 drams a year earlier.

Armenia, a former Soviet republic of 3.2 million people, has been badly hit by the economic downturn in Russia, which has hurt exports and much-needed remittances from Armenian workers based there.

With reporting by Reuters

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