Armenia protests: Electricity price hike suspended

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Media caption,

There is a lot of singing, clapping and dancing at this continuous protest, as the BBC's Rayhan Demytrie reports

The president of Armenia has suspended an increase in electricity prices that led to more than a week of protests.

Serzh Sargsyan said that the government would temporarily cover the cost of the electricity price rise pending a review.

Protesters have been blocking the main avenue in the capital, Yerevan.

They remained on the streets on Saturday, saying the president's concession fell short of their demand for the price hike to be reversed.

The BBC's Rayhan Demytrie reports from Yerevan that the protest area has been surrounded by the police, and buses and water canons have been brought close to where the demonstration is being held.

Protests began a few days after a 17 June decision by the state utilities commission to increase electricity tariffs from the beginning of August by more than 16%.

In the early hours of Tuesday, the situation escalated when police used water cannon to disperse the crowd. There have been round-the-clock demonstrations, referred to on social media under the hashtag #ElectricYerevan.

Analysts say the protests are partly fuelled by anger over years of alleged corruption and unaccountability within the Armenian government, and big business monopolised by Russian oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin.

Armenia still has close links with Russia. The former Soviet nation hosts a Russian military base and a Russian company runs its power distribution network.

The electricity network is wholly owned by Inter-RAO, a large Russian energy company whose chairman Igor Sechin is a close friend of President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Sargsyan's announcement of the price hike suspension followed a meeting with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov.

Russia agreed to loan Armenia $200m (£127m) to help modernise its military, and to allow a Russian soldier accused of killing seven members of an Armenian family to be tried locally.

The killings had previously triggered protests in Armenia.