Thousands gathered today in the western Georgian city of Kutaisi to protest the construction of the nearby Namakhvani Hydropower Plant in the Rioni River Gorge, demanding as well the resignation of Economy Minister Natia Turnava, who led the Government’s unsuccessful effort at communicating with the activists.
Addressing the rally, Varlam Goletiani, one of the figureheads of the Save Rioni Gorge movement, accused Economy Minister Natia Turnava and Environment Minister Levan Davitashvili of leaving the activists’ questions unanswered and “sneaking out of” the March 12 meeting. Goletiani argued that by suddenly leaving the meeting with activists Minister Turnava “insulted” thousands of people.
“They have no arguments as to why they are conceding state interests here, and for what price,” asserted Goletiani.
Goletiani said the next massive protest will be held outside the Parliament building in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. The previous large-scale rally was held two weeks ago in Kutaisi on February 28.
Besides the new demand of Minister Turnava’s resignation, the protesters have for more than three months repeatedly called for the investor to leave the Rioni gorge, as well as the Government to annul orders granting ownership rights and construction licenses on the territory.
The Economy Minister, tasked by PM Garibashvili to lead a dialogue with the locals and activists, unveiled on March 12 an agreement with the investor to delay beginning the construction of the HPP’s dam and reservoir until further safety checks, as well as set up a GEL 5 million joint fund for social projects. But the construction of the project nevertheless continues in defiance of the protesters’ demands.
About the project
The Namakhvani project encompasses two separate HPPs of 333 MW and 100 MW on the Rioni River. The government hopes to enhance its energy security and to employ up to 1,600 Georgians with the “foreign direct investment in the amount of USD 800 million.”
The activists, CSOs, and locals against the project, on the other hand, cite the seismic and other natural disaster risks, potential environmental damage, the contractual conditions that allow the investor to confiscate private property and utilize natural resources, and extensive right to seek the government compensation for damages, as some of their key concerns.