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MIA releases videotape containing opposition supporter’s testimony

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, April 21
The Ministry of Internal Affairs released a videotape on Monday which appears to contain compromising testimony from an opposition supporter who had been at the centre of allegations made against the Ministry.

The tape shows Jaba Kokaia telling MIA staff about an incident on April 17. Kokaia said that at dawn on that day he left a protest rally for a “private” matter and committed a traffic offence in Tbilisi’s Varketili district. Another driver got angry and stopped his car. “A scuffle broke out between us,” Kokaia noted. He then added that when he returned to the rally after this he met “several people”, whom he did not name, and told them what had happened to him. “They told me, let’s use this incident in our favour and say you were beaten up by zonder brigades. I was drunk and a bit shocked so I agreed,” Kokaia said.

The radical opposition has called the taped testimony “a lie”, saying that Kokaia was forced to give such evidence by law enforcers. Dachi Tsaguria, a member of the April 9 rally organising group, has said that in private conversations Kokaia admitted that he gave this testimony after being oppressed by law enforcers. One of the leaders of the Conservative Party, Zviad Dzidziguri, has said that he does not know Jaba Kokaia and has no information about the incident. He said there have been 80 cases of assaults on opposition supporters recorded by the Public Defender’s Office, and “the Ministry of Internal Affairs will have to show us 80 Jaba Kokaias.”

The volume of protestors at the rallies demanding President Saakashvili’s resignation has significantly fallen during the Easter celebration period, however the opposition has promised to start a “new wave” protests from April 21. According to the organizers of the April 9 demonstrations, opposition leaders will visit the major cities of Georgia and bring their supporters from the regions to Tbilisi in order “to involve the whole of Georgia in the protests.” On Holy Saturday the opposition issued a special statement, indicating that they had not changed their main demand, Saakashvili’s resignation.

“During the past few days the authorities have been trying to raise the issue of dialogue. Our joint position on this remains unchanged. We will have only one issue on the agenda at any meeting with Saakashvili - his resignation and the holding of early Presidential elections,” the statement, signed by the leaders of the “radical” opposition, says. “As for resolving specific problems, we will not deter the Government from taking steps that should have been taken long ago,” the statement continues. The opposition has said it also welcomes “the initiatives of the international community in this regard.” The statement was apparently released to defuse rumours which had spread in the Georgian media after opposition leaders met the EU Special Representative in South Caucasus. Media outlets have suggested that the opposition parties held different positions concerning the agenda of a meeting with Saakashvili.

The leader of the Alliance for Georgia, Georgia’s former UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania, reiterated his view of the importance of a “face-to-face” meeting with President Saakashvili. In his interview with Georgian Weekly newspaper Kviris Palitra, Alasania said that “a meeting is the only way out of the political crisis,” adding that “it is an elementary truth that when you are going to a meeting you should listen to the other party as well in order to find out what it is proposing in the process of the negotiations.” Alasania said this does not mean that the opposition is giving up its demand for the President’s resignation and the holding of early Presidential elections. “Eventually, no matter how events develop, each of us should remember that the country’s interests should be placed above all demands,” Alasania noted. The leader of the Alliance for Georgia said it is impossible to predict what compromises the sides would make during the negotiation process. “I think the only way out of the political crisis is snap elections. Without the trust of the people, the Government will not have the resources to solve the problems that the country is facing,” Alasania stated.

Meanwhile, Vice Speaker of the Georgian Parliament Gigi Tsereteli has said that a Bureau Session will be held on Tuesday. It will be the first Bureau Session in Parliament since the April 9 rallies. “Last week Parliament’s work was suspended in order to avoid extra provocations,” Tsereteli said. “Now I am sure that the opposition rejects being destructive, and therefore no provocations will take place,” he added. He said that during the current week “many important issues” will be discussed, including the report of the Public Defender on the country’s human rights record in the second half of 2008 and the budget report.