Ruling National Movement party started to repel the opponents’ attacks against Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili by labeling opposition “supporters of criminal world.”
Interior Minister Merabishvili received a strong backing from the ruling National Movement party on March 7, as opposition’s calls mount for Merabishvili to resign amid high-profile murder scandal.
Opposition parliamentarians from the New Rights and Democratic Front parliamentary factions (the latter unites MPs from Republican and Conservative parties) hailed dismissal of the Interior Ministry’s spokesman Guram Donadze as a success of “society’s pressure on the authorities.”
Guram Donadze was sacked by Minister Merabishvili on March 7. Ex-spokesman was among those top officials of the Interior Ministry who were allegedly linked to the Sandro Girgvliani murder case. But Donadze’s “conflicting relations” with journalists was an official reason behind his dismissal.
Following the news about dismissal of Donadze, MPs from the New Rights and Democratic Front factions convened a news conference and warned the Interior Minister to sack those other officials as well who allegedly are linked to Girgvliani murder case, including Data Akhalaia, chief of the Department of Constitutional Security and Vasil Sanodze, chief of the general inspection of the Interior Ministry, before evening of March 7, otherwise they threatened to launch a campaign for Merabishvili’s resignation.
Opposition MPs also demanded the arrest of Data Akhalaia’s deputy - Oleg Melnikov. The opposition claims that Melnikov allegedly was among those men who brutally beat Sandro Girgvliani to death. Opposition MPs also alleged that the Minister is trying to cover-up these officials.
In the evening Interior Minister Merabishvili held a news conference but made a statement about some details of arrest of Giorgi Gvichiani, top executive of the gas distribution company Tbilgazi, which took place on March 7. At the news conference Merabishvili only briefly commented on Donadze’s dismissal.
“I hope that the new spokesman will have better relations with journalists and our relations will be easier and will foster better cooperation between [the Ministry and journalists],” Merabishvili said. Zurab Gvenetadze, an employee of the Ministry’s press office, is currently serving as acting spokesman.
The Interior Minister said nothing about the opposition’s demand, nor did the Minister comment about his talks with Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze, which took place earlier on March 7.
Response to the opposition’s demands came from the influential parliamentarians from ruling National Movement party, who said at a news conference on March 7 that the opposition should “forget” calls for Merabishvili’s resignation.
“I can tell one thing to our opponents: forget this issue. Merabishvili is the Minister on whom the stability of our state is based,” MP Maia Nadiradze, leader of the parliamentary majority, stated.
She said that the ruling party’s position is “clear-cut support towards Vano Merabishvili.” She also said that currently the Interior Ministry is “a kind of a foundation” for the state and condemned “attacks against Merabishvili.”
“Why these attacks are directed against the country’s major ‘power structure’ [Interior Ministry]? Because our opponents are closely incorporated into the criminal world and with ‘thieves in law’ [criminal bosses]. And it was clearly demonstrated by their [opposition parliamentarians’] refusal to support law on the fight against ‘thieves in law,” MP Givi Targamadze, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security, said at a news conference.
He also accused opposition of “using a human tragedy” – death of Girgvliani – for political interests.
MPs from the ruling party also said that if evidence appears that other officials were also engaged in the murder case of Girgvliani they will also be arrested.
“There are no untouchables,” MP Nadiradze said.
Interior Minister Merabishvili announced on March 6 that the Girgvliani murder case was solved after four officers from the Interior Ministry’s Department of Constitutional Security were arrested.
Following this news conference by influential parliamentarians from the ruling party, Vano Merabishvili also made a comment regarding the issue during a late evening interview with Rustavi 2 television on March 7. He also alleged that opposition’s attacks against the Interior Ministry and personally against him were triggered by an attempt to hinder fight against the criminal world.
“In recent eight months we have solved very serious crimes including abduction of Kaladze, today’s case [arrest of Tbilgazi top executive], terrorist act in Gori, terrorist act against [U.S. President George] Bush, as well as the case which we have solved yesterday [murder of Sandro Girgvliani],” Vano Merabishvili said.
“After all these [success] I thought that I could find a political support not only among the parliamentary majority, and I want to thank them for this support, but also among the opposition. But today we are facing a situation, when opposition confronts the very same trends which I was just speaking about – confronts me, my colleagues and all those people who are fighting against crime, fighting against corruption,” he said.
“I think the goal of our opposition is to discredit our moral, our firmness,” the Interior Minister added.
He also said that a major achievement of the government was to eradicate “syndrome of non-punishment.”
“More than 100 policemen, 8 prosecutors, 7 judges, 22 employees of the Justice Ministry, 43 customs officers, 11 employees of the tax inspection and many others, including about 561 drug dealers have been arrested recently… I do not rule out that certain wrongdoings might take place in [the Interior Ministry], I do not rule out that someone might take bribe, or misuse office, but we have proved on thing – no one will be left without punishment regardless of the position,” Merabishvili said.