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Video Shows Police Using Force to Break Up Power Price Hike Protest in Armenia

The protests began at the end of June as the government prepared to hike electricity rates by 16 percent starting in August.

by VICE News
Jul 6 2015, 4:40pm

Imagen por Karo Sahakyan/AP

Armenian police broke up a two week-long protest in the capital Yerevan today, pulling demonstrators away from a main avenue where they've been protesting against planned electricity price hikes for nearly two weeks. 

Video shot by Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL) on Monday shows local authorities carrying away blockades and forcefully pulling demonstrators out of the crowds and loading them into a vehicle. RFE/RL reported that 50 people were arrested during the police intervention.

Related: 'We Won't Get Tired': Riot Police Deployed in Armenia as Protests Over Electricity Hike Rage On

The protests began at the end of June after the government announced that electricity prices would be raised by 16 percent in August. The demonstrations often were referred to on social media as Electric Yerevan. After removing demonstrators today, Baghramian Avenue was reportedly reopened.

Demonstrations took a turn on June 24, when police used force in an attempt to break up the movement. Authorities fired water canons at the participants and arrested more than 200 people. Both police and demonstrators were reportedly injured during the clashes.

Following the controversial crackdown, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan said demonstrators were violating the country's constitution and that the government would not change its decision. He did, however, offer the possibility of providing compensation as relief for those unable to afford the price hike. President Serge Sarkisian also said Armenia would "bear the burden" of rate hikes for an unspecified length of time.

Electric Networks of Armenia — the nation's power grid — requested the price increase. Much like other industrial interests in Armenia, the power grid is fully controlled by a Russian company, RAO UES. The power grid defended the request by claiming that overall losses were sparked by low profits and debt, RFE/RL reported.

One-third of Armenia's population lives below the poverty line, with many Armenians working abroad in Russia and sending back remittances. Russia's economy has been facing a crisis, which has only been heightened by Western sanctions. This has impacted Armenia's economy as well, with the value of remittances dropping.

Some Russian lawmakers have suggested the West may be supporting the protests, which protest organizers have strongly denied in addition to any relations with Armenian or foreign political forces.

After calls from the international community to investigate the police actions in Yerevan, officials said last week that they would open a criminal inquiry into the events, including police violence allegations, the Associated Press reported.

Watch the VICE News documentary, "Silencing Dissent in Russia: Putin's Propaganda Machine."