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15,000 Take to Streets of Armenian Capital Over Utilities Rate Hike

© Photo : Twitter / Ar_Avetisyan Rally in Yerevan
Rally in Yerevan - Sputnik International
Upwards of 15,000 protesters have gathered in the streets of central Yerevan, Armenia, vowing to block off traffic and saying that they would not leave the streets until police release over 230 participants of Monday's protests detained early this morning.

The protest's organizers noted that they would wait until 8pm local time (4pm GMT) for police to free those being detained, before deciding on what to do next. Presently gathered on Freedom Square, the protesters had intended to move on to Marshal Bagramyan Avenue to the Presidential Administration, but were turned back by police before reaching the building.  

Speaking before protesters, organizers condemned the police for this morning's use of force in breaking up Monday's demonstration, including the use of water cannons, saying that they would continue their struggle to the end.

Monday's protests, organized by the 'No to Plunder' group and aimed against rising electricity prices, began on Freedom Square before turning into a procession to the presidential palace on Monday evening. On Monday, President Serzh Sarkisian reportedly agreed to meet with representatives of the demonstrators on the condition that they end their protest; his offer was declined.

On Tuesday morning, police used special equipment to disperse the demonstrators. In the course of the police operation, 237 protesters were detained, and 18 people hurt, including eleven police officers. Three people were signed in to local hospitals with non-life threatening injuries.

The initial meetings were organized by the 'No to Plunder' group, protesting against a decision by Electricity Networks of Armenia, which owns and manages the country's electricity grid, to raise electricity prices for households by 17-22 percent beginning August 1.

A New 'ElectroMaidan'?

Ukrainian and some Russian media reporting on the protests have already dubbed them a 'new Maidan', with 'ElectroMaidan' becoming a hashtag on Twitter. Some Ukrainian media have declared that the 'ArmyanoMaidan' is more about "stepping out against Russian occupation" than about electricity hikes. 

Asked for comment by Sputnik, Armenian political scientist Hrant Melik-Shahnazaryan noted that the protests are economic in their essence, however some media may wish to color them. He notes that so far, the social unrest is concentrated, and based on concrete demands —the lowering of electricity tariffs.

"It's another matter that in the information space there are certain forces who want to see other processes behind this, political processes. It's hard to say who is behind all of this, but it is clear that some Ukrainian news agencies want to see supporters of the Maidan behind it all, or as they call them, 'the organizers of the Armenian Maidan'. They have already given the protests in Yerevan a name, calling them the 'RatesMaidan', and it is quite obvious that the forces in Ukraine seek to color the protests in the way which would be most advantageous for them to see."

Armenian political scientist Andrei Areshev echoed Melik-Shahnazaryan's analysis, telling Russia's Lenta.ru that these protests are rooted in social discontent over the economic situation, with people from all sides of the political spectrum and a variety of political parties and social organizations participating.

"Naturally, attempts are being made to manipulate the social unrest, and to turn it toward dissatisfaction over Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Armenia's Eurasia-oriented foreign policy in general," Areshev noted. The expert noted that "of course, some participants could well be members of groups connected to various Western embassies. There is nothing surprising about this, because the foreign forces in any country, especially when we are speaking of mass actions and movements, always use their opportunities to 'test the street': to understand what options and opportunities they have if events unfold according to different scenarios."

Areshev cites as evidence the fact that at one point, European Union flags were quickly unfurled and, just as quickly, put away, since "among the majority of the protests are sensible forces who understand that the demands of a socio-economic nature must not be allowed to transformed into anti-Russian slogans, because otherwise events in Armenia can become similar to the Ukrainian and other similar scenarios."

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