Georgian police have banned access of non-local residents to the areas at the villages of Tsitelubani and Khurvaleti along the administrative boundary line with breakaway South Ossetia, which were scene of protests against Russia’s “creeping occupation” after border signposts were placed in the area last week.
Deputy Interior Minister, Archil Talakvadze, said on July 17 that access to those villages was restricted and only local residents were allowed to move in the area. He said that the measure was carried out in order to prevent incidents. He also said that police presence was also boosted on the ground.
One of those signposts marking “border of South Ossetia” was torn down by activists and a group of journalists, who arrived from Tbilisi, on July 14; other protest rallies also followed and the Georgian flag was erected in the area. On July 16, a senior official from the breakaway region’s border guard service arrived at the scene accompanied by armed men, who removed the Georgian flag. Also on July 16 a former deputy defense minister, Andro Barnovi, who now chairs Saakashvili’s presidential library in Tbilisi, arrived at the scene and confronted a Georgian policeman, who was asking him not to approach the area close to the administrative boundary line because of safety reasons; Barnovi was shouting at the policeman and telling him that the Georgian police failed to protect the Georgian flag.
On July 17 dozens of activists from Free Zone, a pro-UNM opposition party group, arrived at the scene, but they were confronted by a group of local residents, who were complaining that the protests were exacerbating situation, affecting further negatively on the local population living in an immediate vicinity of the administrative border. A scuffle with the police also occurred and five activists from the Free Zone were detained.
Authorities in breakaway South Ossetia condemned “provocative” protest rallies and tiring down of the “border” signpost and said that the Georgian national flag, removed by the South Ossetian officials would be handed over to the Georgian side at an ad hoc meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism scheduled for July 20.
Commenting on the recent developments at the administrative boundary line, PM Irakli Garibashvili told journalists in Kutaisi on July 18, that “provocation” involving placement of border signposts was “unfortunately responded with provocations by some forces” in Georgia.
“This is an issue, which requires caution and the state will not allow provocations coming either from within the country or from outside of the country,” he said. “I’ve seen Barnovi, head of sadist Saakashvili’s library, going there and insulting a policeman. I am calling on the police to eradicate such provocations immediately… and defend their dignity.”
In separate comments on the same day in Tskaltubo, Garibashvili said: “I want to tell those people, who are the source of these provocations: you will achieve nothing; adventurers like Free Zone or Andro Barnovi have anti-state thinking and they are irritating local population with their anti-state actions. You have seen that the locals were very aggressive against UNM and Barnovi, who were running like rabbits during the [August 2008] war.”
“The government continues its constructive policy and no force whatsoever can stop us in this process – I mean those destructive domestic forces, which are trying to [fuel tensions] ahead of the European Youth Olympic Festival [which Tbilisi will be hosting on July 26-August 1]; this is a deliberate anti-state action, which is punishable and I want to warn everyone that such attempts are doomed to failure; our state stands strong,” the PM said.
Meanwhile in Tbilisi a protest rally is held on Saturday afternoon outside government’s office under the slogan “Stop Russia”. The protesters are criticizing government for its policies towards Russia with some speakers at the rally condemning it as a “policy of cowardice” and accusing the government of failing to “defend the country against occupation”.