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Two killed in demolition of war memorial

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, December 21
Eight-year old Nino Jincharadze and her mother were killed during the demolition of a World War II memorial in Kutaisi on December 19. Two more people were injured. In response President Saakashvili dismissed Governor of the Imereti Region Mikheil Chogovadze and 10 of the people who organised the demolition have been detained and are being questioned. Local branches of opposition parties will stage protests in Kutaisi over this incident.

This case will be investigated and the guilty strictly punished, said President's Spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze at a special briefing on December 19, at which she added that Mikheil Saakashvili had cancelled a visit to Denmark due to the tragedy in Kutaisi and held a special briefing with law enforcement bodies and regional administration representatives. After receiving full information from them the Governor was dismissed. "The President expresses condolences to the family of the dead and notes that the State will cover the expenses of their funeral,” Manjgaladze said. She added that the Public Prosecutor's Office has already launched an investigation.

The Prosecutor’s Office says that based on the available evidence the demolition was not properly organised. “It appears the correct safety measures were not taken, but an investigation is underway,” states Murtaz Zodelava, the country’s Chief Prosecutor. "An action has been brought concerning violations of security rules during the demolition of the Memorial of Glory. The majority of the detainees are employees of joint stock company Sakfetkmretsvi, including management. According to preliminary information, an excess quantity of explosive material was used during the operation," the Imereti office of the Ministry of the Interior said.

Georgian Deputy Prosecutor General Davit Sakvarelidze stated at a special briefing on December 20 that the Technical Director of Sakfetkmretsvi, Avtandil Darsavelidze, has been arrested. The Director had been personally responsible for carrying out the demolition work and ensuring that security regulations were observed. Sakvarelidze said that the security standards set for carrying out such work had been ignored. If found guilty Darsavelidze will face a prison term of from 2 to 5 years.

Opposition parties are planning to rally from December 21. Their members gathered in front of Kutaisi City Hall on December 20 and called the incident vandalism, calling on the President to dismiss those who organised the explosion. They said that dismissing a Governor or Mayor would not yield any result if those above them were not punished. They called on the people to stage demonstrations at the site of the memorial. "We intend to start street rallies to ensure that all the guilty people are punished accordingly,” stated Mamuka Mgvdeladze, Regional Representative of New Rights.

Christian Democrat leaders, the MPs Giorgi Targamadze and Giorgi Akhvlediani, have already visited Kutaisi and the scene of the tragedy. They expressed their condolences to family members of the victims and all citizens of Kutaisi. Targamadze told a group of local residents that the Parliament building which Kutaisi has been promised should not be built where the monument was. "It would be more reasonable for the Government to build a church instead of a Parliament building here as a memorial to honour the victims of this tragedy and of World War II,” Targamadze said.

One of the leaders of the non-Parliamentary opposition, Levan Gahechiladze, blamed Saakashvili for the tragedy and stated that the President will soon have to answer for it. “I am sure Saakashvili hastened the demolition process and made the workers blow up the monument without undertaking all security procedures. He is responsible for this accident and will receive an adequate response from the opposition,” Gachechiladze said, although not saying what this answer might be.

The 46-metre high concrete and bronze memorial was being removed in order to make way for the construction of a new Parliament building. The Government's plan to do this had been strongly opposed by opposition groups. Local activists from various opposition parties had rallied at the memorial on December 18 saying that the decision to demolish it had been made without taking into consideration the local population’s opinion or consulting its sculptor, Merab Berdzenishvili.

The plan to demolish the WWII memorial also triggered a response from the Russian Defence Ministry; which said it considered it disrespectful to WWII veterans. A statement released on December 18 by the Georgian Foreign Ministry in response did not indicate that there were plans to demolish the memorial; it said that it was going to be relocated and was currently being restored. "The monument was badly damaged in 90s, As a result, it requires rehabilitation work,” the statement read. Later a spokesperson for the Georgian Foreign Ministry said that the relocation and rehabilitation mentioned in the statement referred to only the main part of the memorial complex, a sculpture of a horseman, not the part which had been demolished

Local citizens say that they had been warned about the demolition a week before it took place. "Police warned us a week ago. They advised us to stay indoors during the explosion," Lia Darakhvelidze said.