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Opposition and Government blame each other for Wednesday incident

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, May 8
The opposition and the Government have blamed each other for provoking the clash between opposition supporters and police in front of the Tbilisi Police Department Headquarters late on April 6, which left 22 opposition activists, including radical opposition leaders, 6 policemen and 1 journalist injured. While the opposition say the demonstrators were attacked with plastic and rubber bullets and stones, the authorities claim the opposition attacked the police.

The incident happened when opposition activists, led by Giorgi Gachechiladze (Utsnobi), the brother of former Presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, came to the Tbilisi Police Department Headquarters to demand the release of the three young people charged with assaulting Georgian Public Broadcaster journalist Nika Avaliani on March 5. The opposition claimed that the detained people, including one underage youth, had been brutally beaten and been threatened with “rape”.

The opposition supporters came to the police department fence and started shaking it. The situation became tense when Giorgi Gachechiladze climbed the fence and entered the police department yard. According to eyewitnesses, the police inside the yard used plastic and rubber bullets and stones against the demonstrators. This lasted for about an hour, and later the demonstrators moved to the street and closed off the main highway into Tbilisi.

The detained opposition activists were freed on Thursday, after an appeal from Georgian Patriarch Ilia II. The Public Defender’s Office said that they bore several injuries. The detainees themselves confirmed that they had been physically and verbally assaulted in detention.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has said the police used force “in order to prevent a worse development of events”. Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zghuladze said the police acted with great restraint, stressing that it was “an attack on the police, not an attack on the rally.” Zghuladze said that the opposition had themselves provoked the incident. “I have the impression that the police did not come to the rally to disperse them, they themselves came to the police to start a provocation,” the Deputy Interior Minister said.

Meanwhile the opposition said they had gained a “moral and political victory over the Government.” “A President who does such horrible things should not remain in his post,” David Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights Party, which is part of the Alliance for Georgia, said. “After today Mikheil Saakashvili has lost his legitimacy and should resign,” Gamkrelidze added, speaking at the rally on Rustaveli Avenue right after the incident at the Police Department.

Government officials have said that the state should not allow attacks on the police department. MP Akaki Minashvili said that in the event of being attacked the police have the power to take measures defined by law. “No state, including Georgia, will allow people to storm state institutions,” ruling party MP Petre Tsiskarishvili said, laying the responsibility for the incident on the people who “demonstrated their irresponsibility and tried to enter the police building and free the detained in this way.” Tsiskarishvili noted that if such “provocations” and “attacks” continue, the Georgian state will “use adequate force to stop such kinds of attacks.”

Some opposition leaders have suggested dialogue as the only way out of the current crisis. The leader of the Alliance for Georgia, Irakli Alasania, has said the country is on the edge of disaster and the violence should be stopped through a meeting between the Government and the opposition. “We are ready for this kind of meeting to discuss the ways out of the crisis,” Alasania said.

Other radical opposition representatives have also expressed a readiness to meet the President, but say that the only topic of discussion should be Saakashvili’s resignation. Speaking to journalists after a meeting with foreign diplomats, Nino Burjanadze, the leader of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia, said the opposition’s demand for Saakashvili’s resignation remains unchanged. “If the meeting with the Government takes place, it is a matter of politeness to listen to the other side. However we have one issue only to discuss and this position has not changed,” Burjanadze said.

Representatives of the diplomatic corps have also said that it is necessary to start dialogue in order to resolve the current crisis in the country. Czech Ambassador Ivan Jestrab said early on Thursday that the attack on the policemen was a “criminal act”, adding that dialogue is needed. EU Special Representative Peter Semneby also commented on Wednesday’s incident, calling it an “irresponsible step from the opposition.” At the same time, Semneby said the responsibility for the measures taken in response lies with the Government. The EU Special Representative also stressed that a dialogue should start between the political sides and everything should be done to prevent such incidents occurring in the future.

Political analysts describe the situation in the country as “unhealthy”. Independent political commentator Soso Tsiskarishvili says that one aspect of the Wednesday incident has helped him diagnose the problem. “Members of my generation have not read in books or seen in the movies the Gestapo chanting “Adolf, Adolf” (Tsiskarishvili is referring to reports that the policemen in the yard were chanting “Misha, Misha”). “This behaviour indicates that the police is not a state institution which is here to keep order, but an armed political force serving a specific political power.”

Tsiskarishvili has also commented on suggestions that dialogue is the way to resolve the crisis. He said that the opposition been talking about negotiations more than the Government recently. “The Government has taken so many fake steps recently, including concocting the military mutiny and an espionage case, that it has lost the initiative. When the opposition said they were ready for dialogue, we saw that the Government actually had nothing to propose or talk about with them,” Tsiskarishvili told The Messenger.