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Demonstrators regroup after Armenian police break up energy price protest

07 july 2015, 11:09

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on a central square in the Armenian capital on Monday pledging to carry on protests over energy price hikes after police cleared a key artery they had blocked for weeks, AFP reports.

Riot police earlier detained dozens of protesters and dismantled a barricade of dumpsters they had built across an avenue close to the presidential palace in Yerevan, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

A senior police official, Valery Osipyan, urged the protesters to disperse peacefully. When they refused the order riot police moved in, detaining 46 people to cries of "Shame!" from the protesters.

The demonstrators were later released, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP.

In the evening, some 1,500 protesters gathered at Yerevan's central Liberty Square, where a small group of demonstrators had already been maintaining a vigil, vowing to keep up pressure on the government until their demands are met. 

"You are free to gather here. But we warn that we will not allow marches on Yerevan streets," police official Osipyan told the crowd.

  'We will not give up' 

Protesters in the impoverished former Soviet state have been demonstrating since June 19 to demand a 16-percent hike in electricity tariffs be scrapped.

In an attempt to appease the protesters, President Serzh Sarkisian last month announced that the government would temporarily "bear the burden" of the higher prices.

Sarkisian also said the increase, which had been scheduled to take effect on August 1, would be postponed while the government carried out an audit to assess whether it was really necessary.

But the protesters have dismissed the president's concession as inadequate.

On Monday, they condemned the police tactics and insisted they would continue their campaign.

"The police actions were illegal. We will not give up, our demands remain in force," one of the protesters, David Sanasaryan, told AFP.

At the protest movement's peak, over 10,000 people took to the streets in the biggest anti-government demonstration seen in Armenia in years.

In late June, hundreds of riot police moved in against the demonstrators, using batons and water cannon to quell the protests. 

The authorities on Friday launched a criminal investigation into the crackdown, which sparked condemnation from Washington, Brussels and the OSCE, a pan-European rights watchdog.

Armenia's cash-strapped power distribution company, which is owned by the Russian state holding Inter RAO, said the hike was needed due to a sharp devaluation of the national currency, the dram.

Anger has long simmered in Armenia over the government's failure to lift the Caucasus nation of 3.2 million out of poverty and the decision to raise household electricity prices from August proved the final straw.

Armenia, an ally of Moscow, has been hit hard by the economic crisis in Russia brought on by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Exports to Russia -- Armenia's foremost trading partner -- have fallen, as have remittances from Armenians working there, an important source of income for many families.

In January, Armenia joined the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, a free trade bloc that also includes Kazakhstan and Belarus, further increasing Yerevan's dependence on its former imperial master. 

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