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US warns its citizens prior to May 6

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, May 5
The US State Department has warned US citizens in Georgia to avoid taking part in street rallies and visiting the conflict regions of Georgia. This warning, posted on the official State Department website on May 4, has provoked strong responses from both the Georgian Government and opposition.

“Peaceful demonstrations may turn into confrontations and violence. The US Embassy to Georgia advises US citizens to keep away from places of demonstrations. The US State Department once again warns the US citizens of dangers regarding travelling in certain regions of Georgia. The US citizens, who have arrived or are going to arrive in Georgia, should not travel in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Danger of violence exists in the regions. Unexploded projectiles still exist on territories of the August war 2008, including the vicinity of the city of Gori. Consequently travel in some districts of eastern Georgia is dangerous,” the statement said.

Following reports that the Government will declare May 6 Police Day, while it is traditionally celebrated as Saint George's Day, several opposition parties (the National Council, Democratic Movement-United Georgia, Solidarity With Political Prisoners) declared they would hold street rallies to protest. They said that calling May 6 Police Day was also cynical, as the police abused street rally activists on that date last year. However the Government officially confirmed its decision on May 4. "6 May will be declared Police Day for several reasons. Firstly, this date is connected with pleasant emotions for Georgian citizens, as we celebrate Saint George’s Day on May 6, and secondly on this date the Adjara region was liberated from Aslan Abashidze (former head of the Adjara Autonomous Region)'s regime. Our main achievement is that the police have gained Georgian citizens’ trust. The police should not be involved in political issues,” Vano Merabishvili, Interior Minister, said. The opposition will continue with its planned rallies.

Opposition parties have directly connected the US State Department warning with the planned demonstration. Leader of the Parliamentary minority Christian Democrats Giorgi Targamadze said that "This statement confirms that the United States foresees possible confrontation, that is why I appeal to the Government to act more sensibly, especially when the law enforcement structures in Georgia have nothing to celebrate and there is no need to spend money on a parade. MP Jondi Baghaturia described the Government's decision as provocative. "May 6 is Saint George’s Day and a religious holiday, and the Government could choose any date but a religious holiday as Police Day. I think this is a provocative message by the Government." Provocation has also been Leader of The Way of Georgia Salome Zourabichvili had a similar opinion. "Merabishvili’s initiative is entirely provocative and the opposition parties should not allow the Government to take this provocative step. It is in the interests of the Government to provoke destabilisation in the election period as they are losing these elections. However I will not take part in these street rallies as I am not a supporter of demonstrations which will give the Government grounds to create further destabilisation,” Zourabichvili said.

Members of the Parliamentary majority see nothing special in US State Department’s statement. "This is an ordinary statement. The State Department always warns US citizens when street rallies are planned in countries they live in or visit. Only people who do not know this can give the statement some additional connotation,” MP Giorgi Kandelaki said. The US Embassy in Georgia has confirmed that, "This statement is not connected with the current political processes in the country. Statements with the same content are traditionally made by the State Department.”

Analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze told The Messenger, "it would be better for the Government not to make such a decision, as it has annoyed the people and this cannot be welcomed. As for the State Department’s warning, it is difficult to say whether this was a hint about future threats or just a general warning which happened to coincide with the planned rallies. In general, the United States makes such statements even when there is little risk,” Sakvarelidze said.