Traffic in Armenia Thin As Gas Prices Skyrocket

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Traffic in Yerevan was reduced to a trickle on Saturday following a mysterious disappearance of fuel in gasoline stations across Armenia–in the most serious fuel crisis since the blockade winter of 1993.

Petrol prices skyrocketed late on Thursday and became totally irrelevant the next day as car drivers found gas stations all over the city shut down. Retailers said they are puzzled by the abrupt cut-off of wholesale fuel supplies. The authorities and the biggest Armenian company importing fuel assured the public throughout Friday that the crisis will be over shortly. "All problems will be removed beginning on Monday," said Mikhail Baghdasarov of the Mika-Armenia company–which is believed to carry out at least two thirds of Armenia’s petrol supplies.

"Things will return to normal in the course of the [next] week," he told RFE/RL. Baghdasarov said his company will bring in 13,000 tons of petrol by the end of the month–which makes up more than a half of the country’s monthly demand. The first batch of petrol will reach Armenia late on Sunday–he said.

The Black Sea countries of Romania and Bulgaria have come to be Armenia’s main petrol supplies in the last couple of years. Asked about causes of the turmoil–Baghdasarov claimed that the Bulgarians are now switching their exports to neighboring Yugoslavia at higher-than-international prices and that a major oil refinery in Romania is currently under repair.

Baghdasarov denied speculations that recent political changes in Armenia have put an end to a perceived privileged position enjoyed by his firm. Mika-Armenia is widely suspected of having close ties with National Security Minister Serj Sarksian.

Gasoline was again available in most retail stations in Yerevan on Monday–but was priced ten percent higher than before

As the situation began returning to normal–it appeared that prices will not go down to their pre-crisis levels. Gasoline in Yerevan sold at an average of 200 drams (37 cents) per liter against 180 drams one week ago. Retailers predicted that the price will rise to 210 drams within several days as the wholesale supplies grow more expensive.

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