YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators continued flooding a central avenue in the Armenian capital Monday, refusing to end their protest against a hike in electricity prices even after the president suspended the measure.
The most serious unrest the impoverished ex-Soviet nation has seen in years casts a tough challenge to the leadership of Armenia, a close ally of Russia. Moscow, which has a military base in Armenia, has watched the protests with concern.
On Sunday, the protest organizers cast President Serzh Sargsyan’s pledge to freeze the price increase as their victory and urged the demonstrators to unblock the street.
But several thousand protesters refused to move and vowed to stay until the government annuls the hike. Police then warned it would move to disperse the rally, but didn’t follow up on its threat.
The crowds thinned to several hundred during daytime hours Monday as was the case in previous days, but swelled again to a few thousands in the evening. They refused a police request to remove a barricade of trash containers placed across the road.
The leaders of the civil movement “No to Plunder,” who launched the demonstrations, have shunned political demands and described their action as a social protest. They said those who urge people to continue blocking the street may pursue political goals.
Yerevan’s deputy police chief, Valery Osipyan, said Monday that police have no intention to break up the protest by force.
Sargsyan said Saturday that an international company would conduct an audit of the Armenian power grid, a subsidiary of the Russian electricity company Inter RAO UES. Only if it finds the rate hikes were justified, they would be passed on to consumers, he said.