YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Dancing and singing demonstrators protesting a hike in electricity prices blocked the Armenian capital’s main avenue Friday for a fifth straight day, in a tough challenge to the ex-Soviet nation’s government.
The protesters, most of them young, gathered on the road, separated from police by a barricade of large trash containers.
The numbers swelled from several hundred in the daytime to thousands in the evening, as they have all week, in the worst unrest Armenia has seen in years.
Police unsuccessfully attempt to end the protest by force on Monday.
In a bid to expand the protest, several hundred demonstrators blocked another central avenue Friday evening, snarling traffic. Deputy chief of Yerevan police Valery Osipyan urged them to clear the street.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan hasn’t yet commented on the situation. He has offered to meet with the protest leaders, but they have refused.
Sargsyan’s premier said the government will not roll back the hike and offered compensation to the poorest families, a proposal the demonstrators angrily dismissed.
Despite the tough stance taken by the government so far, many observers expect authorities to eventually compromise.
In a statement that could pave the way for a softening of the government stance, a presidential advisory body called the demonstrations a “remarkable display of well-grounded and proportional reaction of the civil society.”
Armenia’s power grid is controlled by a Russian electricity giant, and other Russian companies own key industrial assets in the nation of 3 million. Armenia also hosts a Russian military base and is a member of Moscow-led security bloc and an economic alliance.
Some Russian politicians have raised suspicions that the West was behind the protests, allegations that angered the demonstrators. The Kremlin, however, has steered clear of such claims.
On Friday, the protest looked more like a party than a political protest, with mostly young demonstrators singing and dancing as one of Armenia’s most popular rock bands performed for the crowds.
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