On the eighth day of protests Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia made his first TV appearance on June 27, tackling one of the most sensitive topics – the police dispersal of the June 20-21 rally, which added fuel to the protests and made Gakharia’s resignation into one of its core demands.
The Interior Minister, who enjoys “full support” from the ruling party amid ongoing protests, called the June 20-21 developments “difficult days” and apart from discussing the details of dispersal, spoke about the responsibility of opposition, government and himself.
Gakharia reiterated the government’s talking points putting the blame for escalation of violence on the opposition leaders from the United National Movement, European Georgia.
Timeline according to Minister
Speaking with TV journalists on June 27, Minister Gakharia said that the rally, which started outside the Parliament building at 7pm on June 20, was “absolutely peaceful”, noting that the situation escalated after direct calls were heard for “attacking the state institutions.”
He also said that from 10pm to the midnight, police officers tried not to use force “as long as possible” and to weather protesters’ attacks. Gakharia explained that police officers resisted onslaught only using their shields and according to him, it was in that very period, when “30 police officers were ripped out from the police cordon” and sustained injuries.
The Interior Minister noted that the confrontation between protesters and police officers near the entrance of the Parliament’s courtyard lasted for five hours; however, “police have not stepped forward from the perimeter outside the Parliament till 2am” and that “they were protecting the Parliament building, each other and themselves.”
Giorgi Gakharia said the situation that developed after 10pm on June 20 was that of a “physical,” “violent,” “organized” storming of the state institution, and “an attempt to change the government”.
He explained that from that point on, the police was not managing a peaceful rally, but rather engaged in “repulsion of the attack” and this was what “we were watching live for several hours.”
Gakharia also noted that any attempt to change the government through violent assault is unacceptable,and that considering the resistance offered by protesters, police exercised its “legitimate right” to use force.
On question whether this use of force was proportionate to the threat presented, especially after the crowd has left the immediate vicinity of the Parliament entrance, Gakharia noted that “there are some question marks” regarding “isolated episodes”, which need thorough investigation, including the cases of police officers firing directly at the protesters or from close range.
Police actions, used weapons and special means
Minister Gakharia has evaded the question, repeated several times by journalists, on whether he gave a direct order to disperse the rally. “Let me emphasize that it absolutely does not matter,” he said, adding that “all Interior Ministry officers were acting under my responsibility.”
Gakharia also rejected allegations that rubber bullets which injured tens of peoples with two losing their eyes represented lethal weapons.
The Interior Minister noted that riot police were equipped with the bullets use of which is “absolutely legal”. He denied “as a cynical lie” the reports as if rubber bullets used during the dispersal are generally used for hunting. Gakharia also noted pointedly, that these rubber bullets were purchased in August 2012, meaning under the previous administration, led by Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, who are now in opposition.
The Interior Minister conceded, that the use of “special means” of crowd control should be investigated. He denied reports that citizens were not warned about the planned dispersal of the rally, saying the rules were observed.
Attempt of negotiations between the government and opposition
Gakharia also touched upon the issue of failed negotiations between the government and the opposition, pinning the blame on the opponents.
“We were ready to enter into negotiations with people assaulting the state institution only to avoid those very tragic consequences [that have occured]. But the negotiations failed, because they could not manage these developments properly,” the Minister added.
Speaking with TV journalists, Gakharia said that legal responsibility of some police officers needs to be established and the prosecutor’s office is investigating the matter. Gakharia reiterated the government’s earlier position on its readiness to involve the Public Defender and all other stakeholders in the ongoing investigation.
Stressing that the protesters also have responsibilities, Gakharia said that the Interior Ministry has already identified “concrete individuals,” who not only were calling for, but were also carrying out “physical attack” on the Parliament building.
Would he resign?
During his meeting with TV journalists, the Interior Minister reiterated several times, that June 20-21 developments “fall under his personal responsibility”, noting however that “political responsibility should be assumed by all those persons, who directly or indirectly participated in them, both on the part of the government and those people who tried to change the government through this method.”
He stressed, that “our political responsibility is to protect state institutions and we are doing that,” adding that “if we regularly violate the law in this process, we should assume political responsibility for it and nobody avoids this responsibility.”
“Political responsibility for the storming [of the Parliament], physical attacks upon police officers and on the Parliament rests with those persons who orchestrated it,” Gakharia said.
Responding to the demands for his resignation, Minister Gakharia noted that he is ready to resign only after the investigation into use of excessive force by police and attacks on state institutions comes to an end so that he makes sure that “not a single police officer involved in the operation becomes the target of undue pressure.”
“If I became a bloody executioner in the eyes of the people, it is the burden that I should bear in order to let everyone know that any violent attack upon institutions is unacceptable and not compatible with the country’s development; [If this point is carried through by my actions] I will manage to carry that burden somehow,” Gakharia added.
PM Bakhtadze’s position
Earlier on June 27, Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze also spoke with media.
Commenting on the June 20-21 developments, Prime Minister noted that “what happened was not the choice of the Interior Ministry or its head. It is their duty to observe the Constitution, to observe order in the country, to protect democratic institutions.”
“The consequences are grave as our citizens have been injured; nothing stands above human health,” Bakhtadze said adding that Saakashvili and his “aggressive team” should be held responsible for recent Tbilisi unrest.