Armenia suspends power hike in a bid to end protests

President Serzh Sargsyan suspends decision to increase electricity bills but protesters refuse to call off sit-in.

Armenia protest
Protesters claim the Russian-controlled power grid company is riddled with corruption [AP]

Armenia’s president has suspended an increase in household electricity rates in an effort to end the protests that have blocked the capital Yerevan’s main avenue for six straight days.

President Serzh Sargsyan told a meeting of senior officials on Saturday that the tariff rise would go into force, but the government would cover the extra “burden” instead of the public until an independent audit of the decision was completed.

Sargsyan said that the 17-percent electricity hike was necessary to support the power grid and therefore he was ordering the government to cover the cost.

‘Armenian people asked to pay for Russian mismanagement’

The protesters refused to go home and said they would not respond to the offer until 6pm (1400 GMT) on Sunday.

“We will all discuss [the offer] all night … and call on people to mobilise tomorrow,” Vaghinak Shushanyan, one of the coordinators of the protest, told the Reuters news agency.

“Shall we stay for the night, carry on the fight?” he asked the demonstrators, who want the increase scrapped altogether. The crowd, which police put at 6,000, replied in unison: “Yes.”

Russian companies control most of the country’s major industries, including the power grid, which the protesters claim is riddled with corruption.

Social tensions

The protest has increased social tensions in the cash-strapped nation of 3.2 million. The southern Caucasus nation is closely allied with Russia, which maintains a military base in the former Soviet nation.

Sargsyan’s announcement followed a meeting the night before with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, who co-chairs a Russian-Armenian economic commission. During the meeting, they agreed to an audit of the electricity company, but this didn’t satisfy the protesters.

The rally in central Yerevan has been peaceful since Tuesday, when police used water cannon against the demonstrators and detained about 200 but were unable to break up the rally.

The protests, organised largely through social media, have become popular on Twitter with the hashtag #ElectricYerevan.

Also as a result of the meeting with Sokolov, Russia agreed to loan Armenia $200m to help modernise its military, according to Sargsyan’s office, Associated Press reported.

Source: News Agencies