A standoff between police and demonstrators protesting a hike in electricity prices blocked the central avenue in Armenia's capital on Wednesday for a third straight day, with no visible progress toward resolving the worst unrest that the impoverished former Soviet nation has seen in years.
President Serge Sarkisian has offered to meet with representatives of the protesters, but they have refused, demanding instead that he announce on television that the price hikes will be scrapped. The president hasn't yet commented publicly on the protests.
The unrest is raising concerns about political stability in Armenia, which has become increasingly dependent on Russia.
Russia has a military base in Armenia, and Russian companies control some of the most prized economic assets, including the power grid. The protest was triggered when an Armenian government panel agreed to raise electricity rates sharply at the request of the power company.
Politicians in Russia have suggested that the West or Western non-governmental organizations had a hand in fomenting the unrest, comparing the protests to those in Ukraine in 2013 that led to the overthrow of the Russia-friendly president.
The demonstrators in Yerevan have denied any links either to foreign organizations or to opposition parties in Armenia. The protesters, most of whom are young, have used social media to organize their actions, which began Friday with three days of sit-in protests.
On Monday, about 5,000 protesters marched toward the presidential residence, but were blocked by police, who early Tuesday used water cannons to forcefully disperse the peaceful demonstration. Nearly 240 protesters were detained, and 15 people were injured.
The demonstration resumed with new force Tuesday evening, with an estimated 7,000 protesters joining a second march toward Sarkisian's residence. They were again stopped by police, who this time refrained from any use of force.
The two sides also were separated by a barricade of large trash containers that the protesters had placed across the road.
Around 400 protesters remained on Wednesday, ignoring police appeals to disperse. Most sought shelter from the sun under trees and umbrellas as the temperature soared to about 104 F. The demonstration was expected to resume again in the evening.
The Associated Press