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Protesters in Kutaisi demand the resignation of Economy Minister

By Nika Gamtsemlidze
Monday, March 15
A group of activists gathered in Kutaisi to protest the construction of the Namakhvani HPP, a huge cascade of Hydro Power Plant that is planned to be built in the Rioni gorge. During the rally, activists demanded the resignation of the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Natia Turnava.

According to Varlam Goletiani, an activist who opposes the construction of the HPP, a moratorium should be declared in the energy sector and discussions should begin to define the legislation, in which the interest of the population will be reflected.

Goletiani also noted that the activists will remain in Kutaisi during the night as well. Locals in the region have been opposing the construction of Namakhvani HPP for more than four months. They demand the company to leave the gorge and halt the constructions. The protesters are supported by several NGOs.

The construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade is planned on the Rioni River, which includes two HPPs, Kvemo and Zemo Namakhvani HPPs. Both HPPs together should have a capacity of 433 MW. The project is worth $ 850 million, and the cascade is scheduled to be operational in 2025-2026. The project is implemented by the Turkish company Enka.

According to the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, EMC, the agreement about Namakhvani gives up significant state interest in favor of a private company. The company also says that the project will not contribute to the energy security of the country, as indicated by the government, and it will imply heavy and indefinite fiscal burdens on the country's budget.

EMCís statement reads that the company is using Georgia's natural resources free of charge and does not undertake to sell energy on the domestic market, which overturns the arguments of the country's energy security or even economic benefits.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has made a statement regarding the large-scale protest against the construction of the Namakhvani HPP in Kutaisi, according to which, police forces were mobilized on the spot to protect public order and security.

On March 12, Turnava said that construction of the dam and reservoir would not begin until the existing studies were verified.