Police cars were overturned during the Batumi riot. 2017. Photo: Screenshot from Rustavi 2 TV
Incident over a parking violation ticket on March 11 in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi, in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, turned violent as hundreds of Batumi residents protested what they regard as “harsh” police practice of the local law enforcement agency.
A spontaneous rally broke out mid-day on March 11 demanding the release of two persons who were detained in the earlier incident in Batumi, when locals confronted the patrol police officers over a fine for a car parking violation.
Several hundred protesters, including activists of the United National Movement, gathered in the center of Batumi and blocked the Chavchavadze avenue, the main transport junction in the city.
Police arrested few more protesters as they tried to open traffic at the Chavchavadze avenue and later, at the regional police headquarters, causing aggressive verbal reactions from the protesters.
Demonstrators moved to the the regional police headquarters on Tbel Abuseridze street at around 23:00 demanding the release of the six detained, as well as the resignation of Kakhaber Bukhradze, the region’s police chief, whom they accuse of excessive police rule.
They also blamed the police chief of disrespect to the locals, saying that Bukhradze, who is not a Batumi native and who was recently appointed to the post, has allegedly referred to residents of Adjara, which has a significant proportion of Muslim population, as “Tatars,” a derogatory slur applied to Muslim Georgians. This allegation can not be independently confirmed, but was widely circulated on social media profiles of several leaders of the unrest, days ahead of the events.
Tensions ran high for most of the evening escalating mid-night when riot police moved out of the police station and drove the protesters away using tear gas and rubber bullets, prompting aggressive backlash from the protesters, who tried to storm the police headquarters throwing stones and torching police and civilian vehicles in the surrounding.
The unrest continued for six hours despite calls from Georgian officials for restraint and calm.
Zurab Pataradze, head of Adjara’s regional government, who was the first to address the participants (00:35) through his televised interview with the Georgian Public Broadcaster, urged the protesters for calm and pledged that the six detained persons would be released from custody, following his consultations with Interior Minister Giorgi Mghebrishvili.
Minister Giorgi Mghebrishvili told the press (01:50) that the six detained were released and that he would travel to Batumi to “explore the situation on the ground.”
President Margvelashvili issued a written statement late night (02:25) calling for respect of state institutions and dispatched the National Security Council secretary and the head of the presidential administration to Batumi.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili released a statement early morning (05:11) accusing “the destructive political forces” of provoking “vandal acts” and adding that the police officers were responding using “minimal” force, to avoid possible “complications.”
The unrest continued until early morning on March 12, when additional police officers intervened and dispersed the protesters, arresting approximately 40 of them. Local media sources reported that around 30 persons have been injured as a result of the clashes.