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Armenian President Offers Plan On Rate Hikes

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian met senior officials in Yerevan on June 27 before announcing his latest proposal to defuse protests sparked by planned utility rate hikes.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian met senior officials in Yerevan on June 27 before announcing his latest proposal to defuse protests sparked by planned utility rate hikes.

By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has vowed financial help to Armenians to deal with a planned electricity price hike that has sparked protests mainly in the capital.

Offering few details, 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.

He was speaking after meeting senior officials in Yerevan on June 27.

“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.

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. During the meeting they agreed to a joint audit of the electricity company.

One of the activists of the No To Plunder movement, Vaghinak Shushanian, told RFE/RL that they were calling on Armenians to turn out on Yerevan's central Marshal Baghramian Avenue on June 28 for a vote at 1800 local time on Sarkisian's latest offer to defuse the crisis.

Activists from the so-called "Electric Yerevan" protest movement have been on the streets of central Yerevan for more than a week demanding Sarkisian revoke a June 17 decision by the state's tariff-setting body to raise 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.

The activists 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 called on June 27 for the electricity price-hike 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.

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 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.”

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.

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