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Controversies over minibus strike continue

By Keti Arjevanidze
Friday, February 1
Tbilisi's yellow minibus (marshrutka) drivers renewed their strike on January 31st after their unproductive meeting at the City Hall the previous day.

There was a small confrontation among the drivers as some of them agreed to stop the strike while others disagreed. However, the strike leaders demanded that the Tbilisi Microbus Company should sign a document obliging it to fulfill its promises. Some drivers said that they do not trust the Tbilisi Minibus Company, “first the plan should be reduced and then we will stop the strike.” they said.

A driver of the #68 marshrutka said there is another reason why he does not want to stop striking - the bus on which he works has been seized. He added that the National Bureau of Enforcement has confiscated other buses.

On the afternoon of January 31st the drivers moved to the Ministry of Finance with the demand to inspect the financial activities of Tbilisi Minibus Company and Tbilisi City Hall.

Deputy Minister of Finance Giorgi Tabuashvili said the Ministry will familiarize itself with the issue and “relevant actions will be taken.”

Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava blamed the ruling Georgian Dream party for the strike, insinuating that it was attempted sabotage by the coalition. The mayor said on January 30th that City Hall and the Minibus Company achieved an agreement but also admitted that the agreement was temporal.

Ugulava thinks that the drivers changed their decision due to pressure from Georgian Dream members, which he said “in the future may cause problems in other civil services as well.”

Mayor urged his political opponents “fight with other methods in order to avoid transportation collapse and cleaning problems.”

In an open letter to Ugulava, drivers reminded the Mayor that it was him who deprived socially unprotected residents of Tbilisi the opportunity to use mini-buses by raising the price marshrutkas from 50 to 80 tetris.

The drivers said this is why people started using the metro and buses and marshrutkas were left with few passengers. Accusing Ugulava of neglecting their demands the drivers denied any political motivation behind their strike and stressed they do not want to have an “inattentive” mayor.

“Why did not you try solve this problem during the last five days? ...Because on the last day a demand emerged about your dismissal and this has probably woken you up." the statement reads.

It has been already a week since the drivers first went on strike. The drivers said their protest will continue until their demands are met. Tbilisi Minibus officials said the majority of drivers will resume work today.