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Armenian police disperse protest after 2 weeks

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Police cleared away barricades on Monday to unblock a central avenue in the Armenian capital that demonstrators had occupied for two weeks to protest hikes in electricity prices in the impoverished former Soviet nation.

Police also detained 46 demonstrators who refused to disperse, but released all of them quickly.

The protest organizers called on supporters to gather in the evening on nearby Freedom Square, but fewer than 1,000 turned up and they were outnumbered by police. Police have allowed demonstrations to be held on the square, where they don’t disrupt traffic, but they appeared determined to prevent the protesters from taking to the streets again.

The prolonged standoff with police was the most serious unrest that the Caucasus nation has seen in years. Armenia is closely allied with Russia, which watched the protests with concern.

During the first week of the protests, the number of demonstrators grew steadily to reach about 15,000 and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan responded by promising to suspend the rate increase. He said an international company would conduct an audit of the Armenian power grid, a subsidiary of the Russian electricity company Inter RAO UES, and only if the rate hikes were found to be justified would they be passed on to consumers.

The protesters, however, refused to remove their barricades, formed from large trash containers, and vowed to stay on the street until the government annulled the hike. But in the week that followed, the number joining the nightly protest rallies gradually dwindled.

At the end of last week, protest organizers gave the government a deadline of Monday evening to meet their demands, saying that otherwise they would begin moving the trash containers forward along the avenue in the direction of the presidential residence.

Instead, police announced Monday morning that they intended to open the road to traffic, and the sanitation company that owned the containers came to pick them up.

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