Dozens of angry protesters picketed on December 19 a local office of the United National Movement’s (UNM) party in Kutaisi, where President Saakashvili was meeting lawmakers from his party, leading to an incident in which UNM lawmakers were insulted.
Protesters, who earlier on December 19 were also rallying outside the Parliament building in Kutaisi, were calling for the President Saakashvili’s resignation and shouting insults at him.
In order to secure President Saakashvili’s safe exit from the UNM’s office, his security guard had to drive SUV on a sidewalk and to stop it right at the entrance of the building allowing the President to get into the vehicle immediately after exiting the building. Some reports said that stones were thrown at presidential vehicle as it was leaving the scene.
Although uniformed police were present outside the UNM office, they were failing to contain the crowd.
Some other protesters went after one of the UNM lawmakers, Akaki Minashvili, after he exited the UNM’s office, verbally insulting and swearing at him; the MP also shouted back at protesters for number of times, calling them “traitors”; television footage showed that at one point several protesters moved aggressively in an apparent attempt to physically assault the MP, but the latter’s companions managed to secure MP’s way towards a vehicle, which took him away from the scene.
Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Usupashvili, has strongly condemned the incident and criticized the police for a failure to prevent it.
“I do not know where the police were at that time and if they were there why they failed to prevent it,” said shortly after the incident Usupashvili of the Republican Party, member of the Georgian Dream coalition. “If we, the authorities, both from executive and legislative branches, do not establish some standards in this country once and forever, we will yield very bad results quite soon.”
“Freedom of expression is supreme... But when it comes to blocking [of the buildings] and physical insult of the members of the Parliament, it is impossible to be tolerated,” Usupashvili said during the parliamentary session. “First of all, I expect that the law enforcement agencies will give us comprehensive answers about what has happened and I also want to tell the [parliamentary] majority, that it is about Parliament’s dignity to protect the rights of MPs. If we do not protect these people [referring to lawmakers from the UNM parliamentary minority] now, each of us will appear in similar situation very soon.”
PM Bidzina Ivanishvili condemned the incident in a written statement and called on the law enforcement agencies to promptly investigate it and to take measure for preventing such incidents in the future. He also called on “the population to refrain from any kind of confrontation and not to yield to provocations.”
UNM accused the Georgian Dream of staging its supporters’ rally outside the UNM’s office, but senior Georgian Dream lawmakers have denied any involvement and distanced themselves from the incident.
After the incident UNM lawmakers staged a walkout from Parliament chamber, the second of this kind in six weeks.
The first walkout was staged by the UNM lawmakers on November 8 in protest over arrests of former defense and interior minister Bacho Akhalaia and two army commanders, as well as over launch of tax probe in the public broadcaster.
Also on December 19 former government members and now head of the Rustavi 2 television station Nika Gvaramia, as well as former energy minister Alexander Khetaguri and former deputy economy minister Kakha Damenia were arrested over charges related to corruption. UNM condemned arrest of Gvaramia as a pressure on independent television station.
“Pressure on the judiciary, physical assaults on opposition lawmakers, arrest of the director of an independent television station – all these mean that the country has really approached the verge, where democracy ends and from where physical persecution and destruction of opponents starts,” MP Davit Bakradze, the leader of UNM parliamentary minority group, said at the parliamentary session before UNM MPs walked out of the chamber.
When mentioning “pressure on judiciary”, Bakradze was referring to an allegation, which emerged earlier on December 19 in which an assistant to one of the judges in Tbilisi City Court claims in a letter sent to the High Council of Justice about being pressured by an Interior Ministry employee to cooperate and provide information about judges. UNM called on the law enforcement agencies to immediately investigate this issue.