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Tbilisi Mayor criticized after insulting NGO representative

By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, August 26
Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania became a subject of criticism from various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the opposition after he called Irakli Kupradze – a member of the NGO Green Fist - a “monkey”, and made him leave a meeting held at the City Hall on August 24.

Tbilisi environmental issues were being discussed at the meeting, when Irakli Kupradze asked the Mayor to discuss concrete problems instead of making populist statements.

The meeting was chaired by Narmania and it was attended by the experts, NGOs, Chairman and members of the City Council and Heads of City Hall Departments.

The NGOs Green Fist, Guerrilla Gardening and Green Alternative demanded from the Mayor explanations over the incident in Kazbegi Street, when around 40 healthy trees were cut down on August 17 on the place where the block of flats is going to be built. The Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation concerning the incident a week ago.

The environmentalists protested against the illegal cutting down of trees and requested that the Head of the Ecology and Greenery Service, Nino Sulkhanishvili, and her Deputy Nugzar Kakhniauri be dismissed, saying they are responsible for the incident on Kazbegi Street.

Narmania refused to meet the demand, saying the decision would be made after the results of the investigation are fully known.

Ecology and Greenery Service head Nino Sulkhanishvili said all requests of the NGOs are acceptable for her. However, she asked to wait until the investigation is finished.

“If law-enforcement agencies report that there had been any misconduct or violation from the side of our service, of course, I will resign and will take responsibility," said Sulkhanishvili.

After the incident with Kupradze, the NGOs left the meeting in protest. The Head of the City Council Environmental Protection Committee, Shorena Bukhradze, also left the meeting, saying it seemed to be staged in advance.

The NGOs held a protest rally outside the City Hall and members of Guerrilla Gardening Tbilisi stated they would continue their hunger strike until their demands are met. The leader of the NGO, Nata Peradze, had been on a hunger strike for seven days when her health condition worsened and another member of the organization replaced her.

“We are not going to stop our protest and rallies until the heads of particular departments are dismissed,” Irakli Kupradze stated at the protest rally.

Narmania said protest rallies are common for democratic states and they cannot be limited. He claimed that around 560 000 trees have been planted in the capital over the last two years.

“Our team cares about the city's ecology and we are working on planting greenery very actively,” the Mayor stated.

According to him, for the first time the Mayor’s Office has Tbilisi Environmental Strategy 2015-2020, which will be followed by the action plan from January 1 2017.

“I suggest we all should sit down and work together on this document during the autumn,” the Mayor stated.

The opposition MPs of the City Council did not attend the meeting with the Mayor. They will hear a report from Narmania on August 26, who will go to the City Council at the request of 13 MPs.

MPs of the United National Movement (UNM) party and members of other opposition parties, NGOs and an independent MP of the City Council, Aleksandre Elisashvili, addressed the mayor to resign and to apologize publicly.

Narmania responded to the demands and apologized to the public saying he wanted to reach an agreement at the meeting through constructive dialogue, but one of the activists tried to turn the meeting into a destructive format,

“I want to apologize to the society and my voters… I, as an official, should have stayed calm. I am very sorry for what happened," Narmania wrote on his Facebook account yesterday.