- Saakashvili’s agenda of possible talks unchanged;
- Influential church leader intervenes in standoff;
- Alasania’s move triggers speculation;
President Saakashvili speaking in the Holy Trinity Cathedral, standing next to the Patriarch Ilia II on April 28. Photo: InterPressNews
President Saakashvili made an appeal for a dialogue and for forgetting “a personal rivalry” while speaking from a podium of the country’s major cathedral.
April 28 was a day of national repentance, which was called by an influential leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II.
Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi was the key venue of the nationwide repentance prayer held in all the churches throughout Georgia – the event, which in fact turned into the political one.
Irakli Alasania, the chairman of Alliance for Georgia, was the only opposition leader, among those behind the ongoing protests, who attended the prayer in the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where President Saakashvili and other senior officials were also present. Other opposition leaders attended the prayer in other churches.
“Your holiness, my compatriots; as one of you I am obliged to repeat the words which his holiness [Patriarch Ilia II] has said: among all sinners I am first,” President Saakashvili, standing next to the Patriarch in the Holy Trinity Cathedral after the prayer, said.
He said that he was ready to immediately start a dialogue with the opposition and listed the same agenda, which the authorities have been offering for talks even before the launch of street protests – overcoming economic difficulties and national security issues. The third topic is democratic reforms.
“I want to welcome the presence of various people here, representatives of various political groups,” Saakashvili said. “I want to tell you that we may not agree with each other, but I am ready to go from here and resume - today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow – what we have been speaking about for a long time, to talk with each other about how to help the people to overcome their poverty, how to overcome the difficulties in our country, how to unite our country, how to stand together in front of the enemy, who stays 40 kilometers away from Tbilisi and aims its cannons against us.”
“But as the first step of our dialogue, of our unity, I want that we all say here, in this great Cathedral, that there should be no hatred and aggression in our relations,” he continued. “As a symbol of that, I want to shake hand with each politician present here and I want to tell them: we have no alternative except of dialogue, except of staying together and building a joint future.”
Saakashvili then walked down from the podium and shook his hand with Irakli Alasania, before doing the same with other politicians present there, including some lawmakers from the Christian-Democratic Movement, a leading party in the parliamentary minority group.
Alasania’s decision to attend the prayer in the same Cathedral together with the Georgian authorities came as a surprise, because other opposition leaders announced earlier that they would pray in other churches and went to either Kashueti or Sioni churches in Tbilisi, in an apparent attempt to avoid appearance together with President Saakashvili, whose resignation they are demanding.
“Unfortunately, the authorities use these great religious events for their political PR campaign; so we want to avoid it” by not going to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Eka Beselia of the Movement for United Georgia, told protesters outside the Parliament earlier on April 28.
Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party, part of Alliance for Georgia, tried later on April 28 to allay any speculation, which is most likely to be triggered after that conciliatory gesture of Alasania.
“I want to calm down everyone, who may be anxious about that fact; I want to assure you that there was no politics behind that decision [by Alasania]; we all [the opposition leaders] have taken this decision in which church to pray individually,” Khidasheli said.
Also on April 28, late in the evening, Patriarch Ilia II, met with the opposition leaders, those who are organizing the ongoing protest rallies.
“We have informed his holiness about our position and told him that we are not against the dialogue and that we want a dialogue on terms of President Saakashvili’s resignation,” Gubaz Sanikidze of the National Forum party, said after the meeting.