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Ombudsman Slams Authorities ‘Intolerance to Protest Rallies’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 29 Oct.'07 / 15:34

Attacks on peaceful protesters in Zugdidi have showed “the authorities’ intolerance” towards peaceful protest rallies, Sozar Subari, the Public Defender, said on October 29.

Ten opposition parties campaigned in western region of Samegrelo on October 28, as a lead-up to a planned protest rally in Tbilisi on November 2. Protest rally in Zugdidi was marred with a group of young men attacking some opposition activists.

Georgian television stations aired footage showing men punching Giorgi Khaindrava, a leader of opposition group Equality Institute and Bidzina Gujabidze, a lawmaker from the opposition Conservative Party. TV cameras have also captured a group of men attacking MP Bezhan Gunava and beating him up.

“I was deeply alarmed while watching TV footage showing well-organized groups persecuting peaceful protesters, politicians and lawmakers in Zugdidi,” Sozar Subari said. “This fact indicates once more on the authorities’ intolerance towards the citizens’ right of peaceful gatherings and manifestations.”

Subari said that the incident in Zugdidi invoked parallels to a similar incident which occurred in the same town in November, 2003 when then opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili was campaigning against then president Eduard Shevardnadze.

“One can easily see in the TV footage assailants in civilian clothes with handguns in their belts; that fact suggests that among attackers there were the representatives of official structures. Policemen were watching the incident calmly, although usually they immediately arrest the participants of peaceful manifestation as soon as they walk down from the pavement to the road,” Subari said.

He called on the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the incident and punish those behind the attacks.

Opposition leaders said on October 29 that “categorically demand” from the authorities to immediately punish those involved in assault on peaceful protesters in Zugdidi.

“If these people are not punished before November 2, we will punish them after the November 2,” Zviad Dzidziguri, lawmaker from the Conservative Party, said at a joint news conference of opposition leaders outside the Parliament.

“10,000 people rallied yesterday in Zugdidi and this was a successful lead-up to November 2, despite the authorities’ attempts to thwart it,” Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of the opposition Freedom Party said.

A lawmaker from the ruling National Movement Party, Levan Bezhashvili, said that the police was investigating the incident.

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