YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian youth activists campaigning against a controversial electricity price hike on Wednesday gave the Armenian government until September 11 to formally scrap the unpopular measure or face new non-stop demonstrations in Yerevan.
“On September 11 we will take to the streets and stay there because if we don’t stay they [the authorities] won’t give a damn,” said Artush Chibukhchian, one of the leaders of the No To Plunder movement.
“Deceiving people is a normal thing for them,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The person occupying the post of the president can easily fool the people.”
“We have had a chance to see that they say one thing and do another,” said another leader of the group, Artur Kocharian.
Kocharian pointed to the government’s decision to keep the energy prices unchanged for households and only some small businesses using up to 500 kilowatts of electricity a month. No To Plunder wants the government to subsidize the tariffs for all individual and corporate consumers.
The youth movement issued the ultimatum one day after about 100 of its members and supporters clashed with riot police at a section of Yerevan’s Marshal Bagramian Avenue adjacent to President Serzh Sarkisian’s offices. Six protesters were briefly detained by the police.
The number of protesters on Tuesday paled in comparison to the thousands of mostly young people who blocked another section of the avenue for two weeks in late June and early July. Sarkisian promised to temporarily subsidize the tariffs in response to those protests, dubbed “Electric Yerevan” on social media.
“The September 11 rally will be much more powerful,” said Kocharian. Chibukhchian, for his part, did not deny that No To Plunder will try to occupy Marshal Bagramian Avenue again.
The activists spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service as they visited kiosks and other small businesses in downtown Yerevan, urging them to boycott the higher fees which the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) will start collecting this month. Legal entities not covered by the government subsidy will have to sign new power supply contracts with the ENA.
“We’ll rip up those contracts,” one female entrepreneur told the No To Plunder activists. “We’ll kick them out.”
Many of the small business owners visited by the activists seemed unaware that they will now be charged 49 drams (just over 10 U.S. cents) per kilowatt/hour by the ENA, up from 41 drams. They said they expected the government to fully subsidize power supplies pending the outcome of a special international audit of the ENA.