Armenian Police Disperse Protest After 2 Weeks

July 6, 2015 Updated: July 6, 2015

YEREVAN, Armenia—Police cleared away barricades on Monday to unblock a central avenue in the Armenian capital that demonstrators had occupied for two weeks to protest hikes in electricity prices in the impoverished former Soviet nation.

Police also peacefully detained 46 demonstrators who refused to disperse, but released all of them quickly.

The protest organizers called on supporters to gather in the evening on nearby Freedom Square. Demonstrations against the rate hikes also have been on the square and police haven’t objected because traffic is not disrupted.

The prolonged standoff with police was the most serious unrest that the Caucasus nation has seen in years. Armenia is closely allied with Russia, which has watched the protests with concern.

As the number of protesters grew, reaching about 15,000, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan promised June 27 to suspend the rate increase. He said an international company would conduct an audit of the Armenian power grid, a subsidiary of the Russian electricity company Inter RAO UES, and only if the rate hikes were found to be justified would they be passed on to consumers.

The protesters, however, refused to remove their barricades, formed from large trash containers, and vowed to stay on the street until the government annulled the hike. But in the week that followed, the number joining the nightly protest rallies gradually dwindled.

At the end of last week, protest organizers gave the government a deadline of Monday evening to meet their demands, saying that otherwise they would begin moving the trash containers forward along the avenue in the direction of the presidential residence.

Instead, police announced Monday morning that they intended to open the road to traffic, and the sanitation company that owned the containers came to pick them up.