Opposition Says Protest Venue ‘Raided’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 12 Apr.'09 / 02:19

Damaged equipment in the opposition’s improvised press room installed outside the Parliament. Photo: Civil.Ge

Opposition leaders said that a protest venue outside the Parliament was “raided” by dozens of unknown man “damaging” equipment in an improvised press room used by opposition activists during the rallies.

Irakli Batiashvili of the opposition Republican Party said about 11pm local time on Saturday about 50 men “attacked” the venue, physically assaulted some of the opposition activists, tore banners and smashed computers.

Some eyewitnesses said that attackers carried batons and were dressed in civilian, while others said unknown men were dressed in uniforms of the Tbilisi municipal cleaning service. One staff member from press room told Civil.Ge that men dressed in municipal cleaning service uniforms entered into the press center “and immediately starting smashing computers.” He said three computers, a laptop and a TV set were either damaged or taken by attackers. One technician on the ground said some audio systems were also damaged, but an exact scale of the damage was not yet clear.

Nino Burjanadze, a former parliamentary speaker and leader of Democratic Movement-United Georgia, said she informed police shortly after the incident, but the police had not appeared at the scene. She was speaking standing alongside with other opposition leaders shortly after midnight outside the parliament.

Eka Zguladze, the Georgian deputy interior minister, who summoned a press conference following the opposition leaders’ announcement, said that the incident was “a scuffle” between protesters and street cleaners.

“It is very unpleasant incident for all the sides,” Zguladze said. “I do not want to make any conclusions as the investigation is on its very early stage and it is not fully clear what has exactly happened and what was the result of this standoff between the street cleaners and protesters.”

In a written statement released after Zguladze’s briefing, the Interior Ministry said: “When the cleaning crew arrived, they were accosted and physically attacked by civilians who were participating in the demonstrations. Computer and sound equipment was damaged. No serious injuries occurred.”

Zguladze said that police was studying footage from CCTV cameras, which are installed on the incident site on Rustaveli Avenue.

The opposition leaders demanded from the Interior Ministry to make the footage public. Zguladze said footage “will become available.”

It was the first major incident during the protest rallies organized by more than dozen of opposition parties to demand President Saakashvili’s resignation.

April 11 was the third consecutive day of these rallies. The opposition leaders decided to suspend the rally for one day on April 12, when Orthodox Christians mark Palm Sunday and to resume demonstrations from Monday. When the incident took place the rally was already dispersed and only few dozen opposition activists were present on the venue to, as opposition leaders said, watch over the equipment.

“The police have been showing maximum restraint, as well as protesters throughout these days and the police will not intervene and there will be no impediment to the demonstrations no matter how many days they last,” the deputy interior minister said.

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