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YEREVAN, June 30 /TASS/. Armenian protesters who refused to accept the authorities’ concession to temporarily suspend the electricity tariff hike remained on the Marshal Bagramyan avenue in central Yerevan on Tuesday. They are attempting to provoke law enforcers who are trying to persuade them to disperse peacefully and remove street barricades which have been blocking traffic for the past eight days.
The protesters surrounded Yerevan’s deputy police Chief Valery Osipyan who arrived at the scene earlier on Tuesday. They interrupted him as he spoke and called out various slogans. The crowd on the Marshal Bagramyan avenue has become more disorganized and less controllable since protest coordinators announced a decision to end the street protest and left the scene earlier in the day. Constructive proposals and clearly formulated demands to the authorities that were previously made by activist Vaginak Shushanyan, an organizer of the "No to Robbery" movement, have been replaced by calls, coming from occasional protesters, to hold on to the last.
"Police are not taking any actions and are waiting for the demonstrators to disperse on their own so that the traffic and public order could be restored. As you see, our efforts have been in vain so far," Osipyan told TASS by telephone earlier on Tuesday adding the police were trying to explain to the demonstrators that their actions were illegal.
The riots erupted after the State Regulatory Commission had agreed to raise public electricity tariffs by 16% at a meeting on June 17 to meet the request received from CJSC "Electric Networks of Armenia" distribution company, a subsidiary of RAO UES INTERNATIONAL. The measure which is to take effect on August 1 caused a wave of indignation among ordinary Armenians who assumed that the electricity price hike would automatically increase prices for essentials and many services. Armenia’s opposition forces used that public discontent to stage mass protests in central Yerevan.
The first protest 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. Eighteen people, including 11 policemen, were hurt in the rallies. Police detained 237 protesters who were released soon but failed to break up the protest. The demonstrators returned to the Marshal Bagramyan prospect almost immediately after their release to join a peaceful rally that has been on for seven days.
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 rather than increase customers’ bill until experts did not complete the audit of the Electric Networks of Armenia distribution company. 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 continued to stay on the Marshal Bagramyan avenue.
On June 30, Armenian Prime Minister Ovik Abramyan said the Armenian government would cover the electricity price rise from off-budget sources until an independent audit of the Electric Networks of Armenia distribution company was completed.
"Electricity tariff hikes will not be a burden on the state budget. They will be compensated from off-budget sources," Abramyan said after the "Economic Agenda-2015" news conference on Tuesday. He added that the concrete sources of off-budget funding would be announced later.