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April in Tbilisi: another rally and ultimatum. What next?

10.04.2009  |  16:17

3/4/0/2340.jpegThousands of people have taken part in protest actions in Georgia. They were timed to coincide with a tragic date: 20 years ago, on 9th April 1989, an anti-government rally was broken up, and 20 people were killed. This event effectively instigated the collapse of the USSR and became the starting point for Georgia's modern history. The organizers of the current rallies believe that 9th April 2009 will also be the start of a new era in Georgia's history.


The long-awaited rally was held without any excesses. Although the inflamed passions inherent in a many-thousand strong rally on the long-suffering square outside parliament seemed to portend a powerful confrontation. Society has again found itself about to cross the line where people in military uniform could once again go on the offensive and, heaven forbid, blood could be shed. This time both the authorities and the opposition seem to have learnt the lessons from the past: both from the events of 20 years ago, and from 7th November 2007. The opposition received permission to hold a rally in the city centre - up until 16th April. The authorities were saying: you just organize a rally as you want to, and then we'll see...

And they did hold a rally. But it was unexpectedly not very emotional, not very active, not very cohesive. The opposition has still not found itself a charismatic leader. The speech made by the professional diplomat, Irakli Alasania, and his latest appeal for the opposition to unite were met with cheers, but he was unable to inspire the several thousand demonstrators into chanting patriotic slogans, as happened during the Rose Revolution.

Nino Burjanadze's address started with her apologizing to the people for being unable to protect them during the breaking up of the demonstration on 7th November 2007. "But today I promise you that I will stand alongside you and will fight to the end for Saakashvili's dismissal. A president who lost a war and did not even apologize to his people for this, should resign. Through our unity we will achieve Saakashvili's resignation," she declared. But one of the participants in the November events was unable to hold back his emotions and comment on the address, and gave a telling whistle. The address by Eka Beselia, general secretary of former defence minister Irakli Okurashvili's party "Movement for a United Georgia", enlivened the rally somewhat. She said that if Saakashvili did not go, an action of country-wide insubordination would begin. Irakli Okurashvili himself did not come to the 9th April actions, but promised to return to his homeland in the coming days. It is difficult to say how events will unfold if he appears in Tbilisi. All we can say is that the confrontation will increase. At least while the authorities are remaining pacifist.

During his address the opposition leader Koba Davitashvili complained that the Georgian national television channels were ignoring the protest action and were not broadcasting reports from the rally. After which the demonstrators sent a delegation to Public Television demanding that they broadcast the protest action. They were allowed in, and a promise was given to broadcast all the subsequent actions.

But in any case the opposition has given the Georgian president 24 hours to respond to their demand to tender his resignation. The ultimatum runs out today at 16.00. Admittedly, Saakashvili has already told journalists that he will not be resigning before 2013 and has again called on the opposition to enter a dialogue.

The opposition will announce its next plans after the ultimatum runs out. Representatives of the leadership are not hiding that the regime is prepared to give the opposition the following: direct mayoral elections in the big cities, and reexamination of the electoral code. What other concessions will the regime make? This is a topic for talks which have not yet taken place.

A political analyst, Andro Barnov, is calling on the opposition forces to reject Nino Burjanadze's influence and enter into a dialogue. Otherwise, he is not ruling out that events could unfold along the lines of the worst-case scenario. The political analyst argues that "it is Burjanadze who is the main instigator behind the radical demands made by the opposition and the categorical refusal to hold a dialogue with the authorities, and this tactic will not bring either the opposition or the country as a whole anything positive." If the opposition continue to follow this tactic, "external forces" might take advantage of this situation, or uncontrollable processes could emerge in the regions. "Anyway, whoever wins in the duel between the opposition and the authorities, we will get a worse situation than we have today," the Georgian media quote Barnov.

But, by the second day of this indefinite rally people in Tbilisi are talking more and more about the economy. Here there is also no consensus. The former head of the State Treasury, Kakha Bendukidze, who is referred to as the silver cardinal, according to Radio Kommersant, declared: "I hope that sooner or later the opposition will agree to enter into a dialogue with the government. The longer this incomprehension lasts, the worse it is for the country's economy." And the president of the Coca Cola Bottlers Georgia company, Temur Chkonia, said: "For 20 years we have been observing the same scene and the same organizers. All this is destructive for the country's economy."


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