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Opposition, Activists Accuse GD of Attacks During Protest Campaign

Opposition United National Movement (UNM) and Lelo party leaders, as well as civic activists have accused the ruling Georgian Dream of organizing verbal and physical attacks against their campaign meetings across the country in the lead up to pro-EU, anti-government demonstration on July 3.

Verbal and physical attacks and attempts to foil the campaign events by government-critical figures were reported in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Zestaponi, Gori, Kvareli, Khoni, Ozurgeti, Lanchkhuti, and Akhaltsikhe.

The confrontations, which some civil society organizations said seemed coordinated by the governing party, come as activists prepare for another pro-Europe rally on July 3, which will be the first since they called for Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili resign and a technocratic interim government to be created to steer the country towards completing recommendations for attaining EU candidacy by year’s end. The Prime Minister and the ruling Georgian Dream party have staunchly rejected and slammed both demands.

Confrontation reports first emerged on June 28 when UNM leader Nika Melia was verbally confronted while on a visit to the town of Zestaponi, in Imereti region. UNM lawmaker Levan Khabeishvili met similar scenes in southern Akhaltsikhe municipality as well as western Guria region’s Lanchkhuri and Ozurgeti towns.

MP Khabeishvili’s visit to Ozurgeti on June 29 was reportedly confronted among others by Georgian Dream Sakrebulo members Nugzar Urushadze and Marika Tkeshelashvili, among others. Government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV footage shows bitter verbal exchange translated into physical skirmish.

MP Khabeishvili told Mtavari Arkhi TV that the move from the Georgian Dream’s part aimed to created an impression that the people are confronting the opposition leaders. Khabeishvili claimed Bidzina Ivanishvili, ex-PM and Georgian Dream founder would make all efforts to cling to power even if it costs “violence and confrontation.”

UNM MP Khatia Dekanoidze reportedly met similar scenes in Nikea neighborhood of Kutaisi, chief western Georgian town, on June 28. Giga Shushania, a UNM member of the Kutaisi Sakrebulo said: “We were met with 40 people, public officials, who were playing the role of angry Nikea residents.”

Shushania alleged that the group was led by Nino Tkeshelashvili, the Kutaisi Mayor’s representative, among other officials. “[They] were there directly interfering [with the meeting] and trying to prove to us that it is not necessary to join Europe.”

Lelo Leaders Confronted in Kvareli, Gori

Lelo for Georgia leaders Badri Japaridze and Levan Samushia met an aggressive group that hurled insults at them during a visit to the town of Kvareli, eastern Kakheti region on June 29.

Per Japaridze, together with Samushia they had visited Kvareli to discuss with locals about EU recommendations for Georgia’s candidacy status and the idea of an interim government of national consent. But Japaridze said the group of opponents “did everything to prevent this meeting from taking place with purposefully insulting statements.”

Japaridze reported that all of those involved have been identified as public service employees, GD party members, as well as the head of Kvareli police and his deputy. “What these people have done is a criminal offense because they interfered in our political activity.”

“This is an attempt to deepen controversy in the country [and] create a civil confrontation which is being orchestrated from one center, the Georgian Dream HQ,” Japaridze emphasized.

Campaigning Lelo leaders were also confronted in Gori, central Georgia reportedly by the Georgian Dream representatives. Gori-based media outlet reported that Japaridze was thrown herbs in the town’s Georgia XXI bazaar.

Confrontation with Pro-Europe Students, Activists

Along with opposition figures, students and civic activists handing out flyers across the country regarding the EU and pro-Europe activist movement “Going Home to Europe.”

Government-critical Mtvari Arkhi TV channel reported that a group of students handing out pro-EU flyers in central Tbilisi’s Dedaena Park were verbally confronted yesterday by Georgian Dream youth branch representatives.

In a more violent incident this morning, a group of university students campaigning for the July 3 protest were physically and verbally assaulted by a group of individuals near Tbilisi State University library in the outskirts of the capital city. Police reportedly launched investigation into the violence.

Also today in Khoni, western Imereti region, civic activists were met by a noisy crowd trying to foil the meeting.

A woman against campaigning activists, saying she worked for the town hall but was on a day-off, told Mtavari Arkhi TV that the meeting was in fact organized by TV Pirveli, Mtavari Arkhi TV – “radical journalists having different opinions.” “Europe is my choice,” she stressed nevertheless.

Public Defender, CSOs Respond

The “Going Home to Europe” movement that stands behind the upcoming July 3 rally expressed “grave concern over the obstructive and violent incidents occurring during meetings held by our members and supporters with the population in the regions.”

“We call on the ruling party to put an end to counterproductive provocations that damage the country’s reputation,” they urged today.

The Public Defender’s Office of Georgia called on law enforcement agencies to “mobilize the appropriate resources” and help ensure that the information campaigns carried out by the Going Home to Europe take place in a “calm and safe environment.”

The Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), Tbilisi-based watchdog stressed in a statement today that the attacks on the gatherings “are clearly coordinated and contain signs of crimes under the Criminal Code.” The statement also called on the Special Investigative Service of Georgia to start an investigation under Article 153 of the Criminal Code which envisages encroachment upon freedom of speech.

The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association also called on the Georgian Dream “to stop mobilizing its supporters, which serves to violate the constitutional rights of the “Home to Europe Movement” representatives.”

Statement by the ruling party addressing allegations was not immediately available. Reporting on Gori incident today, pro-Government Imedi TV said “locals confronted Lelo leaders.” “They said organizers of July 3 rally are orchestrated from Russia,” Imedi TV added.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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