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Tempers flare at Mereti opposition rally

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, June 28
Activists of the Georgian Dream political coalition Aleksandre Kikolashvili and Davit Bzishvili and their two opponents Lasha Tchigladze and Aleksandre Odishvili, were sentenced to 10 days of administrative imprisonment by the Gori regional court. The clash between the youth began several meters away from the place where Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili and Our Georgia – Free Democrats’ Irakli Alasania were meeting in the Mereti village in the Shida Kartli region 200 metres away from the Russian-occupied South Ossetia administrative border on June 26.

The video footage released by the Georgian Dream showed how the locals of Mereti greeted Ivanishvili when suddenly a group of people began to shout at him. Praising President Mikheil Saakashvili’s policy, they accused Ivanishvili of being "a traitor" and a "Russian spy." The locals of Mereti said they had never seen these people before. Later, these women admitted themselves that they were not locals – but came from neighboring villages.

In response to the question posed to Ivanishvili as to what he had been doing during the last 8 years and why he hadn’t assisted the country during the Georgian-Russian war in 2008, Ivanishvili explained that he had been helping the state from the very beginning of Saakashvili’s governance– up until “the raid on the peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi in 2007” which ended with an attack on the independent media. “A conflict between us started [at that point],” Ivanishvli said welcoming the women's differing positions on his policy.

While Ivanishvili was talking to this crowd which was dominated by women opponents, a fist-fight ensued several meters away. Locals of Mereti said that there were ruling United National Movement (UNM) members among the “provocateurs” and named Head of the Mereti Municipality, Vasiko Tevdorashvili, former Deputy, Levan Bidzinashvili, Gori Rescue Service Head of the Gori District Rescue Team, and Kakha Lomidze, sportsmen as part of the group.

Zurab Chinchilikashvili, Head of UNM election headquarters in Gori, called the accusations against his team “absurd.” Discouraging any form of aggression he stressed that every party should have an opportunity to meet with people to introduce their pre-election campaign.

Coalition member Soso Vakhtangishvili thinks it’s high time for the international community to mediate in the election processes in Georgia because the government is leading the situation into the civil confrontation.

Bidzina Ivanishvili said at a press conference in Tbilisi later that day that Saakashvili has officially engaged in “rescue teams” in his struggle for authority. He said despite their attempt to hinder the end of the current government, Saakashvili will still lose the upcoming elections. “People are aware of Saakashvili and they are ready to reject a violent government through elections,” he said. Although the MIA denied participation of the police officers in the Mereti unrest, locals claimed that “zonder-brigades” beat several Georgian Dream supporters including a woman wearing the coalition’s T-shirt.

Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze, called for everyone to avoid any incidents in the pre-election period and to show restraint no matter how unacceptable the remarks and positions are of a political group. “I fully understand the people that are irritated by the statements made by politicians saying the war in 2008 was launched by Georgia and that the occupation, which is still in progress, is the fault of Georgia,” he said, referring to Ivanishvili. It was in November 2011 when Ivanishvili accused Saakashvili and his team of falling into a Russian trap and thus not avoiding a war.

Stressing the necessity for a free, pre-election environment, Bakradze said it’s up to the Georgian people to make their democratic choices in the parliamentary elections this October.