YEREVAN, June 30. /TASS/. Armenia’s police chief, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Gasparyan, has called on participants of a rally against the increase in electricity tariffs in the capital Yerevan to disperse peacefully.
Gasparyan has attempted once again to convince the protesters to unblock the Marshal Bagramyan Avenue in downtown Yerevan, where traffic has come to a standstill for the eighth day in a row.
By Tuesday morning, just several dozen protesters remained at the scene. The night in central Yerevan was calm and no incidents or provocations among the demonstrators have been reported so far.
"It’s become a habit for me to come here every morning," Gasparyan said. "Well, I spend more time here with you than in my office," he said, calling on the protesters to be respectful.
"Police are showing maximum tolerance and this is not because they are weak or not sure that they are right," he said. The police chief has also asked the protesters to move to the Freedom Square in front of the opera theatre.
The riots erupted after the state regulatory commission had agreed to raise public electricity tariffs by 16% at a meeting on June 17 upon the request of national electricity company Electric Networks of Armenia.
The measure, due to enter into force on August 1, has angered the Armenian citizens who say this would lead to a hike in prices on essential items and many services.
The first rally against the planned rise in electricity tariffs took place in Yerevan on June 17. Similar protests were held in other major cities in Armenia on June 19.
The country’s opposition later took advantage of the situation and forced people into streets, what resulted in the dispersal of the Yerevan protests by police on June 23. As a result, 18 people, including 11 police officers, were hurt, and 237 people were detained but later released.
Shortly after, the demonstrators returned to the Marshal Bagramyan Avenue to join a peaceful rally. On June 27, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said that the government was ready to suspend the hike temporarily and cover the price rise out of state funds until an audit of the national electricity company was completed.
That split the protesters’ camp in two: those who accepted the government’s proposal moved to the Freedom Square outside the Yerevan opera theatre; the other half of more radically minded protesters who rejected the government concession pledged to continue the sit-in until all their demands were met.