The Armenian government has refused to reverse a controversial electricity price hike, sparking fresh anger among thousands of protesters who have been rallying for days.
Hovik Abrahamyan, the country’s prime minister, said on Thursday that the authorities would proceed with the move to “ensure the country’s energy security”.
“Protesters won’t achieve anything if they continue to block one of the city’s main thoroughfares,” he said.
Abrahamyan said that raising the tariffs would only cost an average Armenian household about $3 per month, adding that the government would allocate over $5m in aid to the neediest families.
The response to nearly a week of protests in a country where Russia owns some of the most prized assets including the power-distribution grid stirred fresh anger among demonstrators.
“People will get angry and its social demands will become political,” Hakob Balayan, a 31-year-old IT specialist, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.
More than 9,000 protesters flooded the capital Yerevan’s main thoroughfare near the presidential palace. Hundreds of protesters maintained their vigil on Thursday afternoon, blocking traffic, with more demonstrators expected to join them in the evening.
The protests started on Friday and gained momentum after hundreds of riot police moved in early Tuesday to break up a rally using water cannon and attacked journalists, in the most serious confrontation between protesters and police in several years.
Washington, Brussels and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) all expressed concerns over the violence.
The hashtag #ElectricYerevan gained traction on Twitter, with supporters taking to social media to buttress the campaign.
Armenia’s cash-strapped power distribution company said the hike was needed due to a sharp devaluation of the national currency, the dram.
The company is owned by the Russian state holding Inter RAO, which is controlled by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies Igor Sechin.