Six people were arrested after police officers dispersed a rally organized by the opposition United National Movement outside the Tbilisi City Hall on October 2.
UNM activists were protesting against the September 29 amendments to the capital city’s land use plan, which stripped two land plots of their status as recreational areas. Opposition claims that the decision was made to ease the procedures for selling the lands at a symbolic price to two companies involved in billionaire ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s controversial large-scale Panorama Tbilisi project.
Panorama Tbilisi, multi-functional complex on the Sololaki hillside in the old part of the capital city, implemented by a company affiliated with Ivanishvili, has previously met strong opposition from preservationists and opposition groups, who argue that this overscaled project, not far from Ivanishvili’s hilltop residence and the Botanical Garden, will destroy Tbilisi’s historic setting.
According to media reports, the recent controversy pertains to 4700 sq./m of land on Tabori Mountain near the Botanical Garden, which is to be used for a golf course as part of the Panorama Tbilisi; as well as 1900 sq./m of land located between the Pushkin Square and Art Museum in the center of Tbilisi, where a parking lot is to be arranged for a hotel united in the Panorama Tbilisi complex.
Leaders and activists of the United National Movement gathered outside the Tbilisi City Hall and demanded meeting with Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania urging him not implement the decision before the October 21 municipal elections.
The situation grew into a confrontation when police officers refused to let UNM leaders into the city hall building, resulting in the administrative detention of six UNM activists. According to media reports, one police officer was hospitalized.
Members of the United National Party accused police of violence and of fulfilling government’s orders. “If anyone thinks that the story will be over today, they are wrong. We will not let them move on with this issue till October 21. They will not be able to exert pressure on Tbilisi,” said Zaal Udumashvili, UNM’s Tbilisi mayoral candidate.
A day earlier, the Sakrebulo decision was also condemned by the European Georgia party at a rally held on the Pushkin Square. “We will not let anyone seize our lands at the cost of a Lari, [we will not let] billionaires seize lands at a symbolic price while people are starving and in poverty,” the European Georgia’s Tbilisi mayoral candidate, Elene Khoshtaria, said at the gathering.
Aleko Elisashvili, independent Tbilisi mayoral candidate, also expressed his protest against the possible transfer of lands to Ivanishvili-affiliated companies and announced his decision to quit the Sakrebulo membership on October 2.
The United National Movement and the European Georgia called on the Tbilisi Sakrebulo to postpone the decision previously as well. Zaal Udumashvili and Elene Khoshtaria, who were present in the Sakrebulo chamber before its September 29 sitting, were forced out of the building by security officers.
The Sakrebulo approved the decision amid rejection from its environmental protection commission. Shorena Bukhrashvili, who chairs of the commission and represents the Development Movement, described this move “as a forced decision.”