Armenian police responded with force to disperse demonstrators who were protesting against a hike in electricity prices in the country's capital Yerevan on Tuesday.
The activists staged a sit-in overnight for nine hours near the presidential compound when the special police force began dispersing the crowd using water canons. At least seven protesters and 11 police officers were injured during the scuffle, and 237 people were detained, including some journalists.
The protesters have been demanding the revoking of a decision to raise electricity prices by 16 percent beginning, August 1, for the last three days.
The protesters blocked traffic on one of the main streets in the capital and refused the government's offers to appoint representatives for talks. Riot police finally intervened, dispersing the crowd who refused to leave the street.
A cameraman from RFE/RL's Armenian Service was beaten by riot police and other members of the news crew were “roughed up,” the news outlet reported. RFE/RL also said the equipment of its correspondents were damaged and memory cards were confiscated.
Some protesters threw rocks at the police, who beat them with truncheons in response.
The opposition in the country demanded the release of all detainees while criticising the conduct of the police force.
More than 5,000 activists from a pressure group called No To Plunder led the protests against the price hike and they plan to continue to present their demands to President Serge Sarkisian in different cities. The same group also recently blocked a hike in bus ticket prices.
The government said the increase in electricity prices is needed after the fall in Armenia's currency, the dram.
The protests and the response to the demonstrations is the most serious unrest in Armenia in recent years. The price hike has angered Armenia's nearly 3.2 million people who are badly hit by the latest economic crisis, which is linked to economic woes in Russia.
The country is part of the Moscow-dominated Eurasian economic alliance and mostly depends on remittances from Armenians who work in Russia. Russian companies also control some important economic assets in Armenia, including the country's electricity distribution company.
Armenia’s borders with neighbours Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed due to the ongoing conflict in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has been under the control of Armenian soldiers and local Armenian forces since a 1994 Russian-mediated cease-fire that ended the six-year war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Armenia is the only South Caucasian member of Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) which is regarded as Moscow’s new Warsaw Pact. Yerevan’s membership in the CSTO enables Russia to deploy its military base in Gymru near the Turkish border.