June 23, 2015 - 12:39 AMT
Police use water cannons to disperse electricity price hike rally in Yerevan

Early on June 23 morning, the police used special equipment, including water cannons, to disperse a rally against electricity price hike in Yerevan.

As a PanARMENIAN.Net correspondent reported from the ground, the police and protesters conducted lengthy negotiations, with protesters demanded to leave Baghramyan Avenue. At around 2:00 a.m., disagreements arose among the protesters: some of them suggested returning to the Freedom Square, while the others wanted to stay put. After a lively debate, the second option was picked.

At around 4:30 a.m., the protesters began collecting the garbage they had left. The rally coordinators kept warning protesters against throwing bottles or any other items at the police, urging to immediately remove such provocateurs from their ranks.

By 5:00 a.m. the police began to prepare for the dispersal: police officers in civilian clothes wearing distinctive armbands appeared among the protesters. According to the PanARMENIAN.Net correspondent, 14 rows with an average of 30 protesters in each, i.e. around 400-500 people sat in the Avenue driveway, while some of the protesters stood on the sidewalks and urged the police against using force.

At around 5:20 a.m., the police began to disperse the rally participants and vacate the street by using water cannons. The protesters were driven away from Baghramyan Avenue to Mashtots Avenue and Freedom Square: the police even pursued small groups of protesters who tried to escape down the Republic Square.

During the dispersal, not only the protesters but also journalists and operators covering the rally were beaten and detained, with the police deliberately breaking and confiscating video and photo devices. In particular, photojournalist Gevorg Ghazaryan and PanARMENIAN.Net correspondent Nikolay Torosyan, as well as representatives of other media outlets were beaten. Pan Photo photojournalist Karo Sahakyan, who had his camera confiscated by the police, was beaten and detained, but released after a few hours. In the evening of June 23, the camera was returned in working order.

Pan Photo photojournalist Karo Sahakyan, © Photolure

According to preliminary data, 237 people were detained.

Activists launched the "No to Plunder" initiative against electricity price hike on the evening of June 22 outside the presidential residence.

Prior to this, the police blocked access to Baghramyan Avenue.

Heading towards presidential headquarters, the demonstrators stopped in front of police cordons.

As reported earlier, President Serzh Sargsyan expressed willingness to meet a group of 3-4 protesters, the deputy chief of police of Yerevan Valery Osipyan said citing the chief of police of Armenia Vladimir Gasparyan. Osipyan informed the rally participants about the offer which, however, was rejected.

The “No to Plunder” initiative activists announced on June 19 a sit-in protest at the Liberty Square, giving the government until Monday, June 22 evening to abolish the "criminal decision" on the electricity tariff hike. The sit-in was organized after government’s refusal to meet the demand.

Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) Company earlier submitted a bid to the Public Services Regulatory Commission about a rise in electricity tariffs. The parliamentary opposition considers the move unfounded and initiated to serve the interests of ENA. The current night-time tariff for the population is AMD 31.85 per KWH, the daytime tariff is AMD 41.85. The bid of ENA proposed raising the tariffs to AMD 48 and 58 respectively. Yet the Commission satisfied the bid only partially on June 17, with the increase set at AMD 6.93 instead of AMD 17.

The Commission’s decision will take force on August 1, 2015.