Riot police used force on Thursday to stop youth activists from pitching tents outside the Yerevan municipality in continuing protests against its management of public transport.
The mostly non-partisan activists tried unsuccessfully to set up a tent camp there on the seventh day of their sit-in connected to Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian’s failed bid to significantly raise public transport fares.
“Anyone trying to pitch a tent here will be held accountable,” Valeri Osipian, a deputy chief of the Yerevan police, said through a megaphone before scuffles broke out between his officers and the several dozen protesters defying the warning.
“The police orders not to put any tent here are illegal,” one of the activists, Argishti Kivirian, shouted as he tried to pitch a tent. He was forced into a police car and driven away moments later. Kivirian, who is a well-known journalist and civic campaigner, was set free about three hours later.
The protesters insisted that they need tents to protect themselves against the scorching sun. “The regime views tents as symbols of struggle,” one of their leaders, Sevak Mamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The protesters blocked an adjacent street after discovering the disappearance of two big banners demanding the resignation of two senior municipality officials dealing with transport. They left the street after the police returned the banners.
Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian has ruled out the sackings demanded by the campaigners. He has instead offered them to appoint their representatives to an ad hoc commission tasked with proposing a radical reform of the city’s troubled transport system. The offer has been rejected by them.