Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan tried to ease days of tension by suspending a controversial hike in electricity prices on Saturday, which had sparked protests mainly in the capital Yerevan.
Following days of unrest in the country, Sarkisian announced that the government will “bear the burden” of the increased rates for a short period of time, pending a review of the decision on “how justified the tariff raise is and what its consequences would be for the country’s economy.”
Sarkisian told a cabinet meeting that “annulling the tariff raise is extremely dangerous,” and also warned that “if an audit confirms that the tariff raise is justified, consumers will start paying according to a new price.”
According to the Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the president’s decision to suspend the price hike followed a meeting with Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov, who co-chairs a Russian-Armenian economic commission.
Since June 19, a few days after a proposed plan by the state's tariff-setting body to increase electricity prices by 16 percent, thousands of Armenians poured into the streets of the capital demanding the decision to be revoked.
On June 24, the protest took a violent turn when police and demonstrators clashed, as security forces began dispersing the crowd by using water canons.
At least seven protesters and 11 police officers were injured during the scuffle, while 237 people were detained, including journalists.
RFE/RL said that its Armenian Service cameraman was beaten by riot police and other members of the news crew were “roughed up,” adding that the equipment used by its correspondents were damaged and memory cards were confiscated.
The tension that was reflected during the protest is the most serious unrest in Armenia in recent years. The price hike in electricity has angered Armenia’s nearly 3.2 million population who have been badly struck by the latest economic crisis, which is linked to the economic woes in Russia.
Armenia, a former Soviet nation, still has close ties with Russia, as it houses a Russian military base and a Russian company manages its power distribution system.
However, the economic crisis in Russia has struck Armenia as well due to the falling oil prices and the western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the unrest in Ukraine.
Armenia’s power distribution company, which is completely owned by Russian state-controlled company Inter-RAO, said the price hike in electricity was needed due to a significant devaluation in Armenian currency, the dram.