Riot police have been deployed to the site of demonstrations in Armenia's capital city Yerevan, as protests continued on Friday in the country following the government's refusal to back down plans to hike electricity prices.
As night fell on Friday, reports emerged that buses with riot police had arrived at a major street in Yerevan where nearly 20,000 protesters had gathered to demand a reversal of a 17 percent price hike that is set to kick in on August 1. The protests are being referred to on social media as the Electric Yerevan demonstrations.
As if today hasn— Alexander Clarkson (@APHClarkson) June 26, 2015
The protests have been ongoing for the past week in a society riddled with low wages and unemployment. At a cabinet meeting Thursday, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan said demonstrators were violating the country's constitution and that the government would not change its decision. He did, however, offer the possibility of providing compensation as relief for those unable to afford the price hike.
But, it appears the protesters have no intentions of giving up. "We won't get tired, we will go until the end," Eduard Mhitarian, a 22-year-old protester, told the Associated Press.
Protests became violent earlier in the week when police reportedly made more than 200 arrests and used water cannons while attempting to break up the crowds. Several people were injured and plain-clothes officers can be seen assisting in making the arrests in video footage taken during the incident. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into the use of force on the largely peaceful protest.
Great photo! My husband— Maria Titizian (@MariaTitizian) June 26, 2015
The incident sparked a second demand from protest organizers: to punish police who used force against protesters and journalists as well as the people who ordered it, regional media outlet RFE/RL reported.
Since Tuesday's clashes, authorities have resisted using force against demonstrators and both sides have avoided any altercations. On Friday, however, unease appeared to set in as news began to spread on social media that riot police had arrived.
Electric Networks of Armenia — the nation's power grid — requested the price increase. Much like other industrial interests in Armenia, the power grid is fully controlled by Russian company RAO UES. The power grid defended the request by claiming that overall losses were sparked by low profits and debt, RFE/RL reported.
One-third of Armenia's population lives below the poverty line, with many Armenians working abroad in Russia and sending back remittances. Russia's economy has been facing a crisis, which has only been heightened by Western sanctions. This has impacted Armenia's economy as well, with the value of remittances dropping.
"[There's] certainly a feeling that Russia has an inordinate amount of economic power over in Armenia and I think that is a problem for some people," Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, the director of the Armenian Studies Program at California State University-Fresno, told Vice News.
Some Russian lawmakers have suggested the West may be supporting the riots, which protest organizers have strongly denied in addition to any relations with Armenian or foreign political forces.
Der Mugrdechian said the protests appear to be a largely grassroots and people's movement.
"This is something which just affects every family, so I think that's what makes it so grassroots, because that decision to raise the electric rates will impact every family," Der Mugrdechian told Vice News. "It's not just something that you could say well, it's politics it doesn't really impact me, this has an impact on everyone."
A bleak outlook developed out of the continued dependency on Russia's economy, may also play a factor for some youth involved in the protests, according to Der Mugrdechian.
"It's a combination of frustration with their own economic futures and wanting to take some kind of action, that's some way of taking power into their own hands," he explained.
Der Mugrdechian said he doesn't expect the protests to let up anytime soon.
"They clearly don't understand the seriousness of our intention to stay here for long," Vaghinak Shushanian, one of the protest organizers, told the Associated Press.
According to Shushanian, there's a growing dissatisfaction with the way the government is run and he said it was possible these protests could turn political. There have been multiple reports of misuse and mismanagement by the power grid's leadership, according to RFE/RL.
"It's kind of a feeling that there's endemic corruption in the country or in some aspects of the country so this I think kind of first into that narrative that this raise in prices is not really necessary, it's just another way to kind of gouge the people," he said. "I think they want to see a fairer economic system."
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