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Opposition and Government blame each other for night incidents

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, April 27
The opposition and Government have accused each other of trying to “artificially aggravate the situation” as the protest rallies against Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili continue into a third week. Both sides say there is no need for violence. However the radical opposition has reported several provocative incidents during the past week, including one of the opposition activists being shot at with an air gun from the Interior Ministry building on April 25, and the Government has released a video which allegedly shows opposition representatives distributing “wooden sticks” to demonstrators late on April 23.

On Sunday the MIA released further video material which showed opposition activists, members of the so called Civil Patrol Bidzina Gegidze, Gia Korkotashvili and Giga Bukia, allegedly attacking two men and a woman on April 9 Street. According to the MIA, the opposition activists assaulted two of these people and took their wallets with documents and money in them. Gia Korkotashvili, who is the anchor of the Natsnobi programme on Georgian Public Broadcaster, has called the incident a “provocation.” “We did not take money, we just wanted to see their identification cards in order to find out which special agencies they belonged to,” Korkotashvili said on April 26. However in response GPB has released a statement saying that keeping Gia Korkotashvili as the anchor of the programme is not appropriate while the investigation is in progress.

Throughout the last week the opposition has suggested that it is in the interests of the authorities to make the situation more complicated. “The Government is planning provocations,” the leader of the New Rights Party David Gamkrelidze said on Saturday. According to Gamkrelidze Special Forces members dressed in workers’ uniforms would confront the demonstrators. Conservative Party officials also spoke about a “special plan of the Government to artificially aggravate the situation between the demonstrators.” The authorities say they are not planning any violence. According ruling National Movement MP Petre Tsiskarishvili, the opposition has been talking about a “possible threat” for a while but these accusations are groundless. He referred to Way of Georgia leader Salome Zourabichvili, who warned the demonstrators on April 23 about such a threat and called on them to be watchful.

“The enemy of this country has a plan and a desire to see violence and confrontation in Georgia,” Tsiskarishvili said, adding that this “plan of the enemy will not be realised.” Tsiskarishvili reiterated the Government’s readiness for dialogue with not only the leaders of the radical opposition but the Parliamentary opposition and representatives of society “in order to solve all the problems that the people are troubled with.”

Meanwhile some ruling party representatives suggest that the opposition itself is interested in staging provocations. According to National Movement MP Nugzar Tsiklauri nobody in the Government is going to restrict freedom of expression, but the opposition is becoming aggressive towards journalists and “generally towards the alternative viewpoint.” Tsiklauri said that fewer people go to the rally each day and the opposition might want to make things more complicated by staging a provocation. The MP said that if the opposition activists directly attack civilians or policemen or enter state institutions by force, law enforcers will be obliged to defend these people and organizations. “Otherwise, their [the opposition’s] right of expression will not be restricted,” Tsiklauri noted.

The MP made this statement after the Ministry of Internal Affairs released the April 24 video allegedly showing Badri Bitsadze, the husband of opposition leader Nino Burjanadze, and his son walking around with baseball bats in front of the Georgian Public Broadcaster building and an unknown man distributing wooden sticks to the demonstrators. Bitsadze said this was “yet another weak PR effort” by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. “I am not going to make a serious comment about this because it is ridiculous,” Bitsadze said. Nino Burjanadze did not deny that the sticks had been distributed, saying that it is clear from the footage that flagpoles were being given out “for self-defence in case anyone attacks the demonstrators. The demonstrators are not attacking anyone and do not violate the law,” the leader of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia told journalists. “Carrying flagpoles is not forbidden by law,” she added.

Commenting on the footage released by the MIA Georgia’s former UN Ambassador and current leader of the Alliance for Georgia, Irakli Alasania, said that he had been at the site of the incident in front of the GPB and had not noticed “anything like that.” “There is no need for violence. The demonstration is peaceful and in the current conditions nobody needs violence,” Alasania said, expressing his hope that an investigation would discover the truth of the matter.

As tensions continue to mount in the Georgian capital, EU diplomats stationed in Tbilisi are calling on all sides to hold “serious and constructive talks in order to overcome the current deadlock and undertake the political reforms necessary to consolidate the Georgian democracy.” The statement released by the Tbilisi-based diplomatic missions of EU member states, the European Commission Delegation and the EU’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, on April 24 urges “both the opposition and the authorities to ensure the free exercise of this right in a peaceful and secure way, with minimal inconvenience for the normal functioning of institutions and the daily life of all citizens. The EU diplomats “once again call on all parties to strictly abide by the laws of the country and standards of peaceful public gathering.”

While the opposition and the Government blame each other for the incidents, analysts suggest that both parties might be interested in “changing the situation.” Independent political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze told the Messenger that the opposition might want to change things to attract more people to the rallies, whereas the Government might be interested in making “changes” in order to justify a future use of force against the demonstrators. “It is very hard to work out which side is to blame, however up to now it is the government which has seemed more impatient,” Sakvarelidze stated, adding that the rallies will continue till “one of the sides runs out of patience.”