PM Ivanishvili met on May 24 with a group of foreign ambassadors accredited in Tbilisi to discuss the May 17 homophobic violence, arrest of former PM and UNM secretary general Vano Merabishvili and other recent developments in the country.
“Most of the questions were mainly asked about the May 17 events and less attention was paid to the issue of arrest of Merabishvili; there was little interest towards this issue; 95% of time was spent on talking about the May 17 developments,” PM Ivanishvili told journalists after the meeting.
On the same day a group of Tbilisi-based foreign diplomats visited UNM headquarters in Tbilisi for a meeting with the party’s senior officials, who say that Merabishvili’s arrest is part of politically motivated prosecution of opponents.
UNM parliamentary minority leader Davit Bakradze and Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava were present at the meeting. Kakheti governor and ex-healthcare minister Zurab Tchiaberashvili, who was charged along with Merabishvili, but unlike Merabishvili was released on bail, was also present at the meeting with the diplomats. Tchiaberashvili, who was Georgia’s ambassador to the Council of Europe and then ambassador to Switzerland, said that he briefed the foreign diplomats about procedural violations during his and Merabishvili’s arrest.
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Speaking on the May 17 developments during the meeting with the foreign diplomats, PM Ivanishvili said that the authorities were willing “to maximally” provide security of the attempted gay rights rally, but “unfortunately the police and the authorities failed to do it ideally”. He, however, also reiterated his position that the police actions at the time were “adequate to that situation”.
Police have been criticized by human rights and civil society groups of a failure to prevent the violence and concentrating more on safe evacuation of anti-homophobia rally participants from the scene rather than focusing on preventing angry mob from attacking the rally. But the authorities say use of riot police and resorting to force against thousands of anti-gay protesters would have backfired with more complications, violence and unrests in Tbilisi’s streets.
After the meeting with diplomats, the PM said: “I assured the ambassadors that the probability of reoccurrence of those events in the future is very low or nonexistent.” He also said that Georgia had a long history of tolerance, “although topics related to sexual minorities are relatively new for us.”
“I think we will make conclusions and in the future the authorities will be better prepared,” Ivanishvili said. He also said without elaborating into details that he had “suspicion” that violent crowd was orchestrated “from outside”.
He reiterated again that the perpetrators would be held responsible. Criminal charges have been filed against four men, including two Orthodox priests and four young men were fined as of May 24 in connection to May 17 developments. The Interior Ministry says that the investigation continues.
Ivanishvili said that Georgian Patriarch “made a good statement”; head of the Georgian Orthodox Church said on May 22 that priests behaved “impolitely” during the May 17 developments.
“The Church and the Patriarchate realize too that some clerics exceeded law and should be held responsible,” Ivanishvili said.
Asked about the arrest of his predecessor Vano Merabishvili and UNM’s allegations of politically motivated prosecution, the PM said that he would not like to respond to such “unserious” allegations.
“They [UNM] speak about it just for the purpose of speaking; of course they have to say something and of course they won’t say that their leader… is a criminal; I do not react on their [allegations]; let’s wait for the investigation,” Ivanishvili said.
Asked if the investigation would lead to questioning of President Saakashvili, Ivanishvili responded that “president should of course also be questioned if questions exist”.
“President is not god or slave owner… He’s the President of democratic country and he’s equal before the law like any other citizen and if the prosecutor’s office has questions for the President – if his [former] Prime Minister is arrested there is a high probability that the questions will also be asked to him [Saakashvili], that’s normal and the [international] community will accept it normally,” Ivanishvili said.