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Armenians Say They'll Restart 'Electric Yerevan' Protest

"Electric Yerevan" protest leaders Narek Ayvazian (left) and Davit Sanasarian (right) hold a rally in Liberty Square in Yerevan on July 10. "We continue our fight. We will be successful," says Sanasarian.
"Electric Yerevan" protest leaders Narek Ayvazian (left) and Davit Sanasarian (right) hold a rally in Liberty Square in Yerevan on July 10. "We continue our fight. We will be successful," says Sanasarian.

Leaders of the rump "Electric Yerevan" protest movement and other activists in Armenia have vowed to reignite demonstrations against a steep government increase in the price of electricity and eventually to make political demands.

Artur Kocharian, who is with the No To Plunder civic group that began street protests last month by thousands of people against the energy price rise, told RFE/RL on July 21 that the movement will focus on the electricity issue but will not demand the resignation of the government or President Serzh Sarkisian.

Kocharian said the president is ultimately responsible for the 16 percent-plus price hike, which is set to go into effect on August 1, and for what the activist called the "bad situation" in the country.

"We see that for more than 10 years one political party has occupied the ruling position," Kocharian said. "Serzh Sarkisian is always in power and [the longer he rules] the worse the situation becomes."

Kocharian said that "step by step" the movement that has resisted the electricity hike will take up the fight for political change in Armenia.

Many of the protest leaders at the height of last month's demonstrations rejected the notion of broader political goals, saying they would remain focused on the utilities rates and the appropriateness of police actions to disperse the protests.

Activist Daniel Ionnisian opposes Armenia's membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and was part of the Electric Yerevan protests that shut down central Marshal Baghramian Avenue for nearly two weeks until a protest camp was dismantled by police on July 6.

Ionnisian told RFE/RL that "although at this stage the authorities do not feel any danger in losing power, healthy [antigovernment forces] are emerging."

"Today citizens are fighting against rising electricity prices, but tomorrow they will fight against electoral fraud," Ionnisian said.

Rise Armenia, a splinter group of No To Plunder that has emerged since police took down the camp, appears to espouse more confrontational tactics than No To Plunder.

The degree of cooperation between the two protest groups is not entirely clear.

At a Yerevan rally attended by several hundred activists on July 17, Rise Armenia leader and opposition Heritage party city councilor Davit Sanasarian said a new campaign against the electricity price hikes would take place from July 27 to July 31, with demonstrators blocking the central streets of Yerevan and other cities around the country.

"We continue our fight. We will be distributing leaflets from door to door," Sanasarian said. "We will be successful."

Police have warned demonstrators against holding any further "unsanctioned" rallies that hinder traffic in the capital.

It is unclear how police will respond to the calls for demonstrations on Yerevan's streets on July 27, but authorities' forceful tactics -- including training a water cannon on peaceful activists -- appeared to lend momentum to the first wave of protests.

Sanasarian agreed with the other activists that the main objective of the Rise Armenia movement is to stop the rise in electricity prices.

But he added that his civic movement's next battle would be against "controversial" constitutional amendments, particularly a move by the government to transition Armenia from a presidential system to a parliamentary one.

Opposition groups claim Sarkisian is behind the move in an attempt to remain in power as prime minister after his second and final presidential term expires in 2018 or to run the government as head of the ruling party.

RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports that government officials are still formulating the questions for an audit that they pledged to conduct of Armenia's Russia-controlled monopoly power distributor to determine if the electricity rise is necessary.

Sarkisian said the government would subsidize the price hike with extrabudgetary funds until the audit was completed.

The government has reportedly not yet selected an international company to conduct the audit, with just 10 days before the price rise is due to take effect.

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by Karlen Aslanian and Suren Musayelyan
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