YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—More than 230 people were arrested in downtown Yerevan early on Tuesday as riot police broke up an overnight demonstration against rising electricity prices in Armenia on a street leading to President Serge Sarkisian’s administration building.
Security forces, backed up by a powerful water cannon, used force to unblock Marshal Bagramian Avenue at the end of a 9-hour standoff with mostly young demonstrators demanding that the Armenian authorities revoke a more than 16-percent rise in the energy tariffs. Only a few hundred of them had remained camped out there by that time.
The protesters did not fight back, and were driven out of the street section at around 5:30 a.m. local time. Many of them were detained on the spot or moments later, when they were chased away to nearby Liberty Square, the starting point of the demonstration. Some were roughed up in the process.
Police officers, many of them wearing plain clothes, also manhandled and detained several reporters covering the protest. An RFE/RL correspondent was hit by one plainclothes officer as he tried to stop a group of policemen from arresting an RFE/RL cameraman who was filming the violent crackdown. His camera and other live-streaming equipment were smashed as a result.
Another RFE/RL reporter was attacked and had his mobile phone taken away and broken by a plainclothes officer during the dispersal of the crowd. He was using the phone to videotape the violence.
Citing “preliminary information,” a police spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) later in the morning that as many as 237 people were detained during the crowd dispersal. He said 7 of the detainees as well as 11 policemen were injured in the violence.
The standoff began on Monday evening when several thousand protesters attempted to march to the presidential palace in Yerevan. They were stopped by rows of riot police and interior troops clad in full riot gear.
Throughout the night, senior officers led by Ashot Karapetian, the head of Yerevan’s police department, warned the protesters to unblock the streets or face a violent crackdown. They argued that the protest was not sanctioned by municipal authorities.
Most of the remaining protesters, who were led by a non-partisan pressure group called “No to Plunder,” decided to stay camped on the street. “No to Plunder” leaders also rejected Sarkisian’s offer to meet and discuss their demands. They said the president should simply ensure that Armenian utility regulators reverse what they considered to be unjustified price hikes.