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Svaneti Locals Suspend Protest after Police Leave Villages

By Tea Mariamidze
Monday, July 30
The locals of Svaneti two villages - Tchuberi and Khaishi suspended protest rallies after the riot police left the territory and the governmental officials promised to meet the locals and discuss employment prospects.

The locals started protests and blocked Zugdidi-Mestia road after the employees of the Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance arrived at the villages to inspect illegal tree-cutting and examine the houses of locals to find as they had doubts some people might be illegally cutting and processing wood.

Local Gary Chkhvimiani says the situation in the villages is stable now, adding during the next days the locals are waiting for the government officials to arrive at the spot and hold talks with the protesters.

Sozar Subari, the Advisor of the Prime Minister in Regional Affairs met with the locals after the situation escalated on July 26. Some of the people gathered in the center of Khaishi threw stones at the riot police mobilized on the spot.

Subari told the protesters that he knows the main source of income of the locals is tree-cutting and wood processing but explained that the actions of some people contradict law and negatively affect the environment and nature.

“Mildly saying, the people's actions were on the edge of the law. The state has a legitimate right to conduct certain actions to prevent it and this place cannot be an exception. However, we must take into account the number of circumstances - we are a poor country and the people here live in hardship,” he stated, adding the members of the government would arrive in Svaneti to discuss alternative ways of creating workplaces in highlands.

Georgia’s Public Defender Nino Lomjaria stated she is monitoring the ongoing developments on the ground.

She also attended the negotiations between the representatives of the authorities and called on the law enforcers not to restrict the freedom of assembly and demonstration of the protesters.

Lomjaria also called on the locals to express their protest peacefully.

The Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance of Georgia is carrying out measures to identify the persons illegally acquiring woods, persons selling timber through fraudulent documents and illegal wood factories throughout the country.

The Prime Minister of Georgia Mamuka Bakhtadze announced last week that the government will be strict with everyone who is engaged in illegal cutting of trees or who is covering such activities.