Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in a central square in the Armenian capital to continue protests over energy price hikes after police cleared a key artery they had blocked for weeks.
Riot police earlier on Monday detained dozens of protesters and dismantled a barricade of dumpsters they had built across an avenue close to the presidential palace in Yerevan, the AFP news agency reported.
Valery Osipyan, a senior police official, urged the protesters to disperse peacefully. When they refused to obey the order, riot police moved in, detaining 46 people to cries of “Shame” from the protesters.
The demonstrators were later released, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP.
About 1,500 protesters are gathered at Yerevan’s central Liberty Square, where a small group of demonstrators had already been maintaining a vigil, vowing to keep up pressure on the government until their demands are met.
“You are free to gather here. But we warn that we will not allow marches on Yerevan streets,” Osipyan told the crowd.
Protesters in the impoverished former Soviet state have been demonstrating since June 19 to demand a 16-percent hike in electricity tariffs be scrapped.
In an attempt to appease the protesters, President Serzh Sarkisian last month announced that the government would temporarily “bear the burden” of the higher prices.
Sarkisian also said the increase, which had been scheduled to take effect on August 1, would be postponed while the government carried out an audit to assess whether it was really necessary.
‘Police actions were illegal’
However, the protesters have dismissed the president’s concession as inadequate.
On Monday, they condemned the police tactics and insisted they would continue their campaign.
“The police actions were illegal. We will not give up, our demands remain in force,” one of the protesters, David Sanasaryan, told AFP.
At the protest movement’s peak, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in the biggest anti-government demonstration seen in Armenia in years.
In late June, hundreds of riot police moved in against the demonstrators, using batons and water cannon to quell the protests.
Authorities on Friday launched a criminal investigation into the crackdown, which sparked condemnation from Washington, Brussels and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a rights watchdog.
Armenia’s cash-strapped power distribution company, which is owned by the Russian state holding Inter RAO, said the increase was needed due to a sharp devaluation of the national currency, the dram.
Anger has long simmered in Armenia over the government’s failure to lift the Caucasus nation of 3.2 million out of poverty and the decision to raise household electricity prices from August proved the final straw.