Georgia: Opposition leaders revive street protest strategy
|Publication Date||26 November 2007|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Georgia: Opposition leaders revive street protest strategy, 26 November 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47838664c.html [accessed 25 May 2013]|
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Giorgi Lomsadze: 11/26/07
Opposition protesters in Georgia returned to the streets November 25 with a demand for the reopening of pro-opposition television and radio broadcaster Imedi.
The protest was the first since November 7, when police used tear gas and rubber bullets against opposition demonstrators after a five-day rally in front of parliament. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Several thousand supporters, many wearing "We remember November 7" pins, gathered at Rike Square, the site of some of the worst violence, before marching to the parliament building.
Opposition leaders have pledged to continue the protests if the government does not allow Imedi's television and radio operations to resume "within the next few days." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Several hours after the protest, in a late-night television interview, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili outlined his condition for the reopening of the broadcaster: a guarantee that the company will not serve as "a weapon," used by co-owner Badri Patarkatsishvili, to promote the government's overthrow, the president said. Patarkatsishvili, Imedi representatives and the station's operator, Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp., have denied the president's allegation. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Saakashvili said that the excessive use of force by police in the station's take-over should be investigated, but added he had had to act quickly to prevent Georgia from plunging into strife similar to the street conflicts that characterized Tbilisi in the early 1990s. "The mass hysteria was stirred [by Imedi]. There was a direct call on the part of this particular TV station's owner, Badri Patarkatsishvili, for the overthrow of the government and at that moment, precisely at that moment about which you are speaking, our most holy site, Trinity Cathedral was in danger of becoming a hostage of Patarkatsishvili's dirty game," Saakashvili said.
At a November 23 press conference in Tbilisi, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said that he had "strong hopes" that Imedi would be allowed back on the air by early December. The government, he added, had shown a "readiness" to reopen the airwaves to "all TV stations."
Some protesters, however, were far less optimistic about such a prospect. "Imedi was doing a great job in reporting on issues the government was trying to hush up," said Vera Naneishvili, who described herself as housewife. "By closing Imedi, our government has demonstrated that it has no regard for freedom of speech."
The station's closure largely received second-tier billing at the rally. More emotional words were heard in celebration of Saakashvili's resignation for the upcoming January 5 presidential elections, a requirement by law. "This is your victory!" Tina Khidasheli, a leader of the Republican Party, told supporters gathered at Tbilisi's Rike square, the site of heavy clashes with police on November 7. "Misha has run away. Georgia is free!"
A recent government increase in pensions and teachers' salaries and a prisoner amnesty were also tagged as an opposition "victory."
While protesters interviewed expressed uniform dissatisfaction with the status quo under Saakashvili, not all were ready to back the opposition coalition's presidential candidate, parliamentarian Levan Gachechiladze. "I just want Saakashvili to go," commented one protester with a shrug, who described Gachechiladze as "just too rough around the edges" to be a dignified head of state.
Homemaker Naneishvili, though, said she's eager to vote for Gachechiladze. "The country should be ruled by people, not just one person. Gachechiladze says he will cut down presidential powers and let parliament rule the country. That's what I call democracy." [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Gachechiladze's campaign platform is built around a pledge that, if elected, he would oversee a transition to a parliamentary system of government. Accordingly, Gachechiladze has vow to hold a referendum on creating a parliamentary democracy headed by a prime minister, and then to resign his post.
The Republican Party's Khidasheli told EurasiaNet that the coalition is planning a "special event" in the next few days to tout Gachechiladze's candidacy and platform before taking the campaign to "every region and town of Georgia."
Some political analysts question whether the nine-party opposition coalition that is backing the 43-year-old Gachechiladze can hold together over the long-haul. "The opposition parties have joined ranks to fight their single nemesis, Mikheil Saakashvili," commented analyst Ghia Nodia of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development. "They will struggle to maintain unity and shelve their differences for awhile, because not only they have to beat Saakashvili in the presidential election, but also prevail in the parliamentary election."
Signs of stark political differences among coalition members were readily evident during the November 25 opposition rally. Jondi Baghaturia, the ultra-nationalist leader of the Kartuli Dasi (Georgian Group) party, promised to nationalize companies and property bought by foreigners, while People's Party head Koba Davitashvili tried to reach out to ethnic minorities.
Already, one former coalition member, Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili has withdrawn to run his own campaign for president. Overall, there may be as many as twenty one candidates, including Gachechiladze, the coalition's nominee, running against Saakashvili for the presidency. Another challenger could be Patarkatsishvili, who has begun gathering the petition signatures needed to register his candidacy. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Opposition leaders insist that broad popular support for their cause is fostering a strong sense of coalition cohesion. "We'll never abandon our unity," coalition leader Goga Khaindrava told the crowd.
Editor's Note: Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. EurasiaNet Caucasus News Editor Elizabeth Owen contributed reporting to this story.
Posted November 26, 2007 © Eurasianet