Electric Yerevan: State regulator defends power price hike amid youth-led protests

A spokesperson for the state body regulating utility prices has defended the decision to raise electricity tariffs after a reported meeting between the body’s chief and Armenia’s prime minister amid continuing public protests on Wednesday.

Mariam Stepanyan, the press secretary of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC), told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the meeting between PSRC Chairman Robert Nazaryan and Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan was a scheduled one.

The Nazaryan-led five-member Commission unanimously decided on June 17 to allow an increase in electricity tariffs by about 7 drams (some 1.5 cents) beginning August 1. Thus, it partially granted the 17-dram increase request submitted by the Russian-owned operator of Armenia’s power grid – the Electricity Networks of Armenia.

The decision sparked large-scale public protests led by a civic group called No To Plunder.

Thousands of people gathered again for a large demonstration in Yerevan’s central Baghramyan Avenue that remains blocked since June 23. Activists barricaded themselves with dumpsters there after police used force to disperse their peaceful sit-in earlier that day.

Like during previous days leaders of the No To Plunder initiative stated on Wednesday that their only demand is that President Serzh Sargsyan revokes the PSRC’s decision.

Meanwhile, asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service whether the PSRC would cancel its decision on the power tariff rise, spokesperson Stepanyan said: “Economically grounded facts underlie this decision. It means that the benefits of the supplier and the consumer are economically balanced. The Commission has set the minimum threshold below which normal, reliable work of the Electricity Networks of Armenia and electricity-generating companies was impossible.”

Meanwhile, No To Plunder activists continue to block the central Yerevan thoroughfare as police have shown restraints since June 23 night.

Talking to media last night deputy chief of Yerevan’s police Valeri Osipyan said that the police were not going to use force despite the fact that, in his words, the actions of the protesters have been “unlawful” since June 19.

He said that the Armenian police force today is not its “former self” and is capable of maintaining public order under all circumstances.

No To Plunder initiative member Vaghinak Shushanyan, who had a talk with Police Chief Vladimir Gasparyan, also announced at the rally that he promised that no force will be used against the sit-in participants.