Armenia protesters block road for third night

Thousands of demonstrators face off with police in demonstration against planned price hike on electricity.

    Demonstrators have blocked a major avenue in Armenia's capital for the third night in a row over plans to hike electricity prices.

    Thousands faced off with police in Yerevan well into the night on Wednesday, with no visible progress towards resolving the worst unrest the country has seen in years.

    President Serzh Sargsyan has offered to meet with representatives of the protesters but they have refused, demanding instead that he announce on television that the price hikes will be scrapped.

    Protests began on Friday, after an Armenian government panel agreed to raise electricity rates by up to 22 percent at the request of the Russian company that owns the country's power network.

    Al Jazeera's Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Yerevan, said protesters, in addition to stopping the price hike, want to see an end to corruption and monopolies.

    He said they also made it clear that they were not protesting against Russia, but against the Russian company that has a monopoly on the electricity supply in the country.

    About one-third of Armenia's population lives below the poverty line. High unemployment and low wages push thousands of people to leave the country every month.

    "The price hike of 17 to 22 percent doesn't make much sense for people because Armenia is the country of the former Soviet republics where electricity is the most expensive," Stephan Astourian, director of Armenia studies at the University of California, told Al Jazeera.

    "There is deep suspicion of mismanagement in that Russian company, Electric Networks of Armenia, that is owned by a huge Russian conglomerate."

    Hundreds detained

    On Monday, about 5,000 demonstrators marched towards the presidential residence, but were blocked by police, who early on Tuesday used water cannon to forcefully disperse the peaceful demonstration. Nearly 240 protesters were detained, and 15 people were injured.

    The demonstration resumed with new force on Tuesday evening when thousands launched a new attempt to march on Sargsyan's residence. They were again stopped by police, who this time refrained from any use of force.

    Police have released all those detained and dropped charges against them.

    By Wednesday evening, when the sizzling heat abated a bit, the number of protesters grew to up to 10,000.

    The atmosphere was relaxed and even festive with people shouting chants, singing national songs and dancing.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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