Series of protest rallies with an eventual goal to achieve government’s resignation and possibly also early parliamentary elections, will be held across the country, UNM opposition party leaders told thousands of protesters gathered at the Freedom Square in Tbilisi center at the largest anti-government demonstration since GD ruling coalition came into power in late 2012.
A senior UNM lawmaker Giorgi Gabashvili presented to protesters, who gathered late on Saturday afternoon and dispersed peacefully by the evening, an action plan of “struggle”, which he said, would “definitely end with the resignation of the government.”
“In coming days, protest rallies will be held throughout Georgia – it will be protest rallies in Tbilisi, protest rallies in all the regions,” he said.
“We will set up special anti-corruption committees, groups, which will expose corrupt governors and gamgebelis [heads of local provincial municipalities],” he said.
He said the UNM will “start permanent rallies if needed.”
“We will exercise our constitutional right, and if needed, we will launch pickets,” he said.
He said that UNM will also “start in the Parliament collecting necessary number of votes” in order to pass a vote of no confidence against the government.
At least 60 MPs are required for the launch of the procedure and and support of more than half of MPs to pass a no confidence vote. UNM holds 50 seats in 150-seat parliament, where GD ruling coalition has 87 seats and opposition Free Democrats – 8 seats; four seats are held by independent MPs and one seat is currently vacant.
“The entire government should resign; a technical government should be composed, which will launch implementation of an anti-crisis program; electoral reform should be carried out immediately and we should win either in early or scheduled [late 2016] elections – I think in early elections. This is a big road, which starts from today,” MP Gabashvili said.
Ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili was the main target of speakers at the rally, who were referring to him as an “oligarch” pulling the strings of his “puppet” government. Some of the banners, carried by protesters, read: “Go away Bidzina”; “Stop Bidzina.”
Before the end of the rally, protesters moved outside the government headquarters close to the Freedom Square, chanting “resign, resign” and showing symbolic red cards to the government. Along with the Georgian flags, some protesters were also holding NATO, EU and Ukrainian flags.
In a video address to protesters from Brussels, ex-president and UNM chairman Mikheil Saakashvili, who is wanted by the Georgian authorities, told protesters: “Russian oligarch, who is pushing the country into abyss, is sitting in the palace above [referring to Ivanishvili’s hilltop residence just above the Freedom Square] and is looking at you from above mockingly and telling you that ‘everything is alright’… and is going to teach you how to see things ‘correctly’.”
“This government has completely squandered people’s trust and is now entirely bankrupt in the eyes of actually whole Georgia and the world,” Saakashvili said and added that Georgia has to be “rescued” from Ivanishvili’s “tentacles”, his “lies” and his “destructive government”.
“Today Georgia is being destroyed and this destruction must be stopped,” Saakashvili said and added that the current government has “instilled practice and language of hatred and confrontation.”
“We should not repeat this mistake. We should forget once and for all revenge and retribution,” he said. “We can be focused on the future without being stuck in the past – that’s what makes us different from them [GD coalition].”
“This period of darkness will be over soon,” Saakashvili said. “We will liberate Georgia very soon from this incapable, dark and destructive force and get our homeland back on the right track.”
UNM parliamentary minority leader, MP Davit Bakradze, told protesters that the first thing the UNM will do when it returns to government would be “political reconciliation and economic amnesty.”
“We should put an end to confrontation and hatred once and for all in this country,” he said. “Today we are launching the new stage of our struggle, which will lead us together to the victory.”
One of UNM leaders, Giga Bokeria, said: “Presence of tens of thousands of people here is a guarantee that we will not give the future of this country to… a billionaire and his puppets in government.”
“We are watching for almost three years how they are destroying and pushing the country into abyss,” Bokeria said. “It is our duty to put an end to it.”
It was UNM’s third major street protest rally – two previous ones were held in April, 2013 and November, 2014. The opposition party first announced about intention of holding this recent rally in late February amid economic slowdown and depreciation of Georgian currency lari, which has lost about 26% of its value against U.S. dollar since early November, when it started depreciation.