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Opposition plan to unblock Rustaveli Avenue

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, July 15
The opposition are planning to remove the “cells” from Rustaveli Avenue after three months of continual protests in the centre of Tbilisi demanding President Saakashvili’s resignation. The ‘radical’ opposition leaders nevertheless say that despite the removal of the “cells” the protest rallies will continue “till the final victory”.

The improvised metal constructions imitating prison cells were originally erected as a sign of protest in different places in Georgia’s capital, including the main central street of Tbilisi, the Georgian Public Broadcaster headquarters, the State Chancellery and the President’s Residence at Avlabari. Later most of these cells were removed and only the area in front of Parliament on Rustaveli Avenue remains blocked right now. According to Giorgi Gachechiladze, a singer and opposition activist, who was the initiator of setting up the “cells”, they symbolised the imprisonment of Georgia under Saakashvili’s rule.

Salome Zourabichvili, the leader of the Way of Georgia and one of the most outspoken critics of Mikheil Saakashvili, told journalists on June 13 that the opposition was considering the removal of the cells from Rustaveli Avenue. Later other non-parliamentary leaders confirmed this, saying that the fight is not over and the opposition will continue it with a new strategy from September. “The struggle will last until Saakashvili’s resignation,” Eka Beselia from the Movement for United Georgia said.

The ‘radical’ opposition politicians say that the “cells” have already fulfilled their function and it’s time to use new ways of expressing protest. “Everything has its end, the idea of setting up “cells” was very original and successful, however it has already exhausted its function and there is a need to substitute this form of protest with something new. The “cells” have served their purpose successfully because the whole world saw that under Saakashvili’s regime all of Georgia is imprisoned. It was a symbolic action to show everyone the true face of Saakashvili’s rule,” Manana Nachkhebia from the New Rights told The Messenger. “Some might dislike this idea, however everyone should realise that one important stage of the fight is over. The cells will be removed, but our struggle will continue. We are discussing a new strategy and possible ways of continuing with the protest rallies,” she added.

Nachkhebia stated that the date of the removal of the cells has yet to be decided. “We have decided to remove the cells, however we are still negotiating about the date of their removal. We don’t want to make a hasty decision. There are different views on this issue in the opposition. Some opposition members think that the cells should be removed before Joe Biden’s arrival, in order not to give the Government opportunity to speculate over the “cells” issue. On the other hand we don’t want our supporters to think that the opposition has made a deal with the Government before the arrival of the US official,” she noted.

Viktor Dolidze, a member of the Alliance for Georgia which is taking a relatively moderate position and no longer takes part in the ongoing rallies, called the decision of the ‘radical’ opposition “positive.” “We do not participate in the daily rallies any more but we want to take part in thematic rallies and we think the street protests and “cells” have served a serious purpose and now a change of strategy is needed,” Dolidze stated, adding that Alasania’s team thinks that street protests are not the only way to achieve change in the country.

Ruling party officials have not commented on this issue so far.