Several hundred protesters gathered outside the President’s Office on March 17 to demand Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili’s resignation and an unbiased investigation of a high-profile murder scandal.
Rally, which was organized by some human right groups, was joined by the opposition Republican, New Rights, Conservative, Labor and Freedom parties, as well as by those outdoor market sellers, who were protesting on the same day outside the Parliament against new regulations on use of cash registers. Demonstrators also protested against, as they put it, police violence.
In a response to this rally, Chief of the President’s Administration Giorgi Arveladze convened a news conference and accused the opposition of an attempt to “to stir up situation” in the country. He also said that the authorities have already responded to the protesters’ demands. Arveladze was referring to the President Saakashvili’s March 16 statement who categorically ruled out Interior Minister Merabishvili’s resignation.
“Those people who call themselves opposition use all the possible means in an attempt to maximally stir up and aggravate situation in the country and to create an impression that there is a catastrophic wave of public protests and disorders. In reality it is not so and we all see this very well. They fail to give desired form to those protest rallies which they try to organize. They [opposition parties] only can gather their activists, but they fail to achieve growing these [rallies] to a mass [demonstrations],” Giorgi Arveladze said at a news conference on March 17.
Arveladze also said that in some cases the recent protest rallies aim at giving a reason to the Russian television stations to portray situation in Georgia as unstable.
He also said that these opposition forces “mainly serve to certain oligarchic interests and in some cases, unfortunately [serve] to criminal interests.”
Speaking at a late night news conference on March 16 President Saakashvili also downplayed these protest rallies and said that demonstrations are “usual events in any democratic state.”
“These kinds of protest rallies are taking place in any democratic state. Just switch you TVs to the foreign channels and you will see it… If not these protest rallies we will become like Belarus or North Korea… We have a country where everyone has a right to express even the most unacceptable opinion. But the decisions are taken with majority of votes,”
He said that the opposition tries to enliven on the eve of local self-governance elections, scheduled for this autumn, adding that his party will anyway will win elections, because “we are doing a job.”
“We have already won the presidential elections, we have won the parliamentary elections, we have won MP by-election last October and I think it will not be a surprise if I say that we will win local elections in general. Maybe in some constituencies we will not be able to win but in general we will,” Saakashvili said.
The opposition parties vowed at a rally on March 17 to hold larger demonstration on March 30 with similar demands – resignation of Minister Merabishvili. Analysts say that it will be difficult for the opposition to make Saakashvili dismiss his close ally and one of the key figures in the Georgian politics.
In case of Merabishvili’s dismissal, the entire cabinet, including PM Zurab Nogaideli should also resign, as Merabishvili will be sixth Minister replaced in this cabinet since it was approved in February, 2005. According to the law the entire cabinet should resign if one-third of its members change.