Riot police clashed with youth activists and detained several of them on Tuesday amid continuing protests against a more than 50 percent surge in the price of public transport in Yerevan.
Six young men were taken into custody shortly before a demonstration near the Mayor’s Office in the Armenian capital staged by around 200 people demanding a reversal of the highly unpopular measure. The authorities attribute it to the increased cost of Russian natural gas.
Chanting “We are the masters of our country!” the protesters broke through a police cordon and approached the sprawling building in the city center. Riot police at the scene regrouped to prevent them from entering the building.
The crowd then marched to the police headquarters of Yerevan’s central administrative district where the detained activists were being held. It scuffled with security forces outside the police station before receiving assurances that the reasons for the arrests will be explained soon. All six activists were set free about two hours later.
A similar scuffle broke out at a major street intersection in downtown Yerevan on Monday evening. Dozens of mostly young people demonstrated there on the third day of the opposition-backed campaign against the transport price hike.
Valeri Osipian, a deputy chief of the Yerevan police, condemned as illegal the demonstrations and the activists’ calls for city residents to refuse to pay higher fares set by the municipal government. In a written statement issued late on Monday, the national police likewise accused the protesters of disrupting public order and putting pressure on bus drivers which could lead to traffic accidents. The statement warned that those defying police orders will be “identified and held accountable.”
However, the warning did not stop the activists from continuing to urge commuters to keep paying 100 drams (24 U.S. cents) per bus ride. Scores of them chanted “Hundred! Hundred!” at bus stops in the city center.
The municipal authorities again rejected these demands. “What was done is substantiated. If anybody can prove the opposite, we will discuss the issue,” Henrik Navasardian, the head of Yerevan’s public transport department, told reporters.
Navasardian spoke after meeting with the owners of dozens of private firms operating bus and minibus routes in the capital. He said they are worried about the protests. “They invested money in their businesses and must protect their vehicles and drivers, who are jostled and even attacked at times,” claimed the official.