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Opposition takes allegations on-air, plans protest of election results

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Friday, January 11

The state-owned public broadcaster interviewed live an opposition coalition leader, who detailed his bloc’s allegations of vote fraud and media bias in a combative back-and-forth with the station’s journalists.

Kakha Kukava, a Conservative MP and leading member of the nine-party opposition coalition backing Levan Gachechiladze, took the live interview with the public broadcaster yesterday evening.

On January 9, Gachechiladze demanded the opportunity to speak live on the public broadcaster, saying his brother and other political allies would go on hunger strike if the request was denied.

“The public broadcaster, funded by the people’s money, is obliged to give time for any presidential candidate to address the people live,” Gachechiladze declared.

Yesterday evening, explaining that Gachechiladze was not appearing because he had another interview to do, Kukava accused the network of biased coverage in the last two months.

“I’m on air on your station for the first time since November 2,” he said, in reference to a mass anti-government rally which police violently dispersed five days later. “Not a single minute has been given to [the opposition]. There have been two weeks of hysterical charges made against us…and you did not give us a chance to respond.”

Gachechiladze was scheduled to appear on Rustavi 2’s “Prime Time” later in the evening.

Kukava spoke about alleged Election Day violations, displaying sealed envelopes which he claimed contained ballots and were found in a Tbilisi landfill.

He also ticked off a number of districts with precincts showing improbably high turnout and support for Saakashvili.

According to the opposition’s parallel vote tabulation, Saakashvili took far less than the 50 percent of the vote he needed to win without a runoff.

“We demand a runoff,” Kukava declared. “If the government does not agree, we’ll start a wave of demonstrations on January 13.”

He also cast doubt on the credibility of Alcee Hastings, the Florida congressman appointed coordinator of the OSCE’s election observation mission. Hastings, who has called the January 5 election a “triumphant step” for democracy in Georgia, was a judge until being impeached for corruption and perjury.

“This is the man sent to Georgia and making a report on Georgia’s democracy,” Kukava scoffed. “The Georgian people are not blind, and we know who we voted for.”

The confrontational rhetoric signals the opposition coalition is ready to press ahead with its protest of the election. Earlier, Gachechiladze dismissed overtures from Saakashvili, the presumed winner of the January 5 presidential election, of opening his cabinet to opposition politicians. Saakashvili has not yet been legally reelected, Gachechiladze said.

“We won’t allow him to remain in his post by rigging elections,” Gachechiladze vowed.

The nine-party opposition coalition is set to go ahead with a protest on January 13 in the capital’s center.

Mamuka Akhvlediani, a Tbilisi vice-mayor, confirmed that the coalition had received permission for their rally, which will march down central Rustaveli Avenue.

Protestors will not be allowed to demonstrate within 20 meters of government buildings, or to block municipal transport, according to a letter of permission released by Tbilisi City Hall.

Anyone violating those rules will face punishment, Akhvlediani said.

Reached for comment, the opposition coalition’s Kukava laughed and said City Hall would be the one facing punishment.

The coalition plans for the rally to last five days, starting from noon on January 13.