YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Youth activists leading nonstop demonstrations in Yerevan against electricity price hikes reiterated on Friday their sole condition for meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian and discussing their demands.
“The meeting can take place only if it is broadcast live by the media,” Maxim Sargsian, one of the leaders of the No To Plunder movement, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) as scores of people remained camped out on a central Yerevan avenue for the fifth day running.
The non-partisan civic group cited this demand earlier this week when it twice rejected Sarkisian’s offer to receive them in the presidential palace located just a few hundred meters from the site of the protests.
The president has not accepted this condition yet. Nor has he made any public statements on the more than 17 percent rise in electricity prices and the resulting public anger that prompted thousands of mostly young Armenians take to the streets.
Vladimir Gasparian, the chief of the Armenian police, dismissed the protest leaders’ conditions as he again visited the blocked section of Marshal Bagramian Avenue on Friday morning. “You can’t voice demands to the president of the republic,” he told journalists.
Prime Minister Abrahamian on Thursday rejected the protesters’ demands, saying that the price hike is the result of “objective factors.” He also announced that the Armenian government will compensate more than 100,000 low-income families for the unpopular measure by raising poverty benefits paid to them.
Hovannes Sahakian, a senior pro-government parliamentarian, described the government’s decision as a “first step” aimed at addressing the popular discontent. “Further steps? When a decision is made everyone will be informed about it,” Sahakian said.
“But for further steps we need to sit down and negotiate,” he stressed. “They have to come [to the presidential administration] so that we discuss and see whether or not this [benefit increase] is sufficient or whether we need another [government] intervention.”