YEREVAN (RFE/RL) –Thousands of Armenians again rallied on a street leading to President Serzh Sarkisian’s offices on Tuesday evening just 15 hours after riot police forcibly unblocked it and arrested scores of activists protesting against electricity price rises.
Phalanxes of riot police deployed on Marshal Bagramian Avenue again stopped them from approaching the presidential palace, setting the stage for potential fresh clashes between the two sides. A senior police officer at the scene tried in vain to convince the crowd to demonstrate elsewhere in the city center.
As the demonstrators reached the scene of the violent dispersal of the previous protest, Valery Osipian, a deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department, announced that all 237 or so individuals detained early in the morning have been released from custody. Those included the leaders of the No To Plunder movement leading the vocal campaign against the price hikes.
Some of those leaders were able to join the several thousand protesters in nearby Liberty Square shortly before they marched to Marshal Bagramian Avenue. They received a hero’s welcome there.
“We will keep fighting with the same demands till the end,” one of the No To Plunder leaders, Maxim Sargsian, told the crowd.
“Their water cannons won’t scare us. We will be creating problems for them every day,” said another leader, Vaghinak Shushanian.
Osipian met with angry reactions from these and other organizers when he approached them in an attempt to persuade them to avoid another march. The young civic activists were furious with what they see as heavy-handed police actions that ended the overnight standoff. It was not immediately clear whether they planned to spend another night on the blocked street section.
As Osipian argued with the No To Plunder leaders in Liberty Square, a female protester grabbed his hat and ran away. Police officers accompanying him failed to catch her.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) afterwards, Osipian defended the use of force in the early hours of the morning. He insisted that the police on the contrary displayed “disproportionate tolerance” in its handling of the protesters.
According to law-enforcement authorities, at least 25 people, among them 11 policemen, were injured during the violence. Some of those protesters received medical aid in hospitals.