Political leaders and citizens groups opposed to the United National Movement (UNM) have held two separate protest rallies in Tbilisi today, to mark the police crackdown on opposition protests in November 7, 2007 and to express their outrage at the possible election of Grigol Vashadze of UNM in the second round of the Presidential polls.
One rally dubbed “I Defend Freedom” was held at centrally located Rustaveli State Theater with the participation of some of the leaders of 2016 protests, Levan Gachechiladze, Goga Khaindrava, Koba Davitashvili and Irakli Batiashvili. Another rally dubbed “No to Nazism. Protesting against bloody November 7” was held outside the Tbilisi Opera House and was followed by a manifestation towards the Freedom Square. Similar rallies were reported to be held in other cities of Georgia on November 7.
The speakers called on Georgian people not to allow the UNM’s return to power and “to make a correct choice” during the runoffs. The organizers of the both rallies, some of whom are associated with GDDG, announced their plans to hold peaceful rallies in Georgia’s provinces, as well as to rally in Tbilisi on the eve of the second round of presidential elections.
The previous anti-UNM rally was held in the capital on November 3.
Presidential Candidates’ Assessment
Grigol Vashadze, the UNM-led coalition’s presidential candidate, and Salome Zurabishvili, the ruling party-endorsed presidential candidate, both marked November 7 in their Facebook posts.
“November 7 is the gravest mistake made by the previous government and a lesson for each following government. Although I had no links to then government [at the time] and I was an ordinary private person, I fully share the responsibility for that day and consider it my own problem,” Grigol Vashadze said. He also noted that “instead of playing a unifying role, the government had further split already polarized society.”
Salome Zurabishvili wrote: “This struggle is not over: struggle for justice, legality, strengthening the state and consolidating the independence! Struggle for Georgia.”
Background: November 7, 2007
November 7 crackdown had been a culmination of escalation in 2007, in which the ten-member opposition coalition posed four key demands to Mikheil Saakashvili, chief among them – to hold early parliamentary polls, in April, instead of late 2008. Salome Zurabishvili, who will soon contest the presidency as the government-backed candidate, was one of the opposition leaders at the time. Imedi TV, owned at the time by tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, was giving ample airtime and support to the opposition.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered on November 2, 2007. Following the escalating rhetoric between Saakashvili, who accused the Patarkatsishvili of an attempt to stage a coup and Patarkatsishvili, who threatened “uncontrolled processes” the tensions boiled over on November 7.
Early in the morning, the police police broke up a smallish group of protesters that remained at the parliament building in Tbilisi overnight. As outraged opposition supporters streamed into the streets, the police deployed water cannons, used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them in several locations. By the end of the day, Imedi TV and Kavkasia TV, a smaller broadcaster sympathetic to opposition, were raided by the police and taken off air. Subsequently, a state of emergency was imposed. 508 people were treated in hospitals for injuries they received in clashes.
Following the domestic and international outcry, President Saakashvili has stepped down on November 8, 2007 and triggered snap Presidential polls for January 5, 2008, which he proceeded to win with 53.45% of votes cast in his support. The result was contested by opposition, crying foul during the vote tally, but was given a green light by the national and international observers.