YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Riot police forcibly unblocked on Monday a central Yerevan avenue that has been the scene of a nonstop demonstration for the past two weeks against a controversial rise in electricity prices in Armenia.
Only between 100 and 200 protesters remained camped out on Marshal Bagramian Avenue when the police began dismantling their barricade. They went on to carefully disperse the small crowd.
Youth activists leading the protests and dozens of their supporters were detained in the process. A police spokesman subsequently put the number of detainees at 46. Police confirmed that nine of those arrested were released.
“I think everyone will be set free within three hours,” General Hunan Poghosian, a deputy chief of the national police, told several opposition parliamentarians who arrived at the scene immediately after the start of the operation overseen by him.
The police did not use batons and a water cannon or attack reporters in sharp contrast with their violent crackdown on a larger number of mostly young protesters who first occupied the street leading to the presidential palace in Yerevan on June 22-23.
That crackdown only backfired, leading thousands more Armenians to block the street and demand that the authorities revoke the more than 17 percent energy price hike. President Serzh Sarkisian announced on June 27 that his government will subsidize the price, meaning that Armenian households will not have to pay more for electricity for the time being.
No To Plunder, a youth group that launched the “Electric Yerevan” campaign, urged the protesters on June 28 to unblock Marshal Bagramian Avenue. Most protesters rejected the appeal. Nevertheless, attendance at the protests fell dramatically in the following days.
The police ended the protests early in the afternoon, just hours before the expiration of an ultimatum that was issued by the new leaders of the movement on Saturday. The latter said they will advance further towards the presidential palace unless the authorities fully and unconditionally meet their demands by Monday evening.
The police warned the remaining protesters to disperse in a statement that was issued shortly before the operation. The protesters sat on the road in hopes of making their dispersal harder. The more numerous police officers did not need much time to drag them away and reopen traffic through the street.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Ashot Aharonian, the chief police spokesman, praised the crowd for not putting up strong resistance to security forces. He said none of the detained individuals will be prosecuted or fined.
Aharonian would not be drawn on a police response to possible fresh attempts to occupy Marshal Bagramian Avenue.