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Saakashvili Speaks about Prison Riot, Hails Police
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 27 Mar.'06 / 19:52

Speaking at an emergency session of the National Security Council President Saakashvili said on March 27 that by suppressing the recent prison riot Georgia has prevented a threat of mass disorder and destabilization.

He recalled a jailbreak from the very same prison in Tbilisi during the early 1990s and said that it was followed by a civil war and a military coup against late Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1992.

Below is a slightly truncated transcript of Saakashvili’s speech:
“We have declared a merciless fight against organized crime in Georgia, against the ‘institution of thief’ [criminal boss]. In the last four months, since the fight against the ‘thieves-in-law’ [criminal bosses] was launched, we have been receiving threats about massive jailbreaks and massive disorders.

In the past fifteen years, prisons, as well as all of Georgia, was ruled not by [ex-President Eduard] Shevardnadze, but by ‘thieves-in-law’ and bandits. Thieves were controlling the economy, energy system, movement of people, our streets and backyards etc.

I, together with my friends – [Defense Minister Irakli] Okruashvili who was my deputy at the time when I was Justice Minister [in Shevardnadze’s administration] – launched this fight against the thieves, but we had no resources and no time to bring this fight to its logical end. Even after the Rose Revolution we needed a certain period of time to seriously start tackling this misfortune. For this purpose we needed at least new detention centers and we have built new prisons in Kutaisi and Rustavi. We also needed new staff [for the prison system]. A new Chief of the Penitentiary System was appointed [Bacho Akhalaia] who was much different from his predecessors, who ruled prisons in cooperation with the thieves. Outside [the prisons] we have also launched a campaign to deal with these bandits…

As it seems, recently, when we started to seriously deal with these thieves-in-law by confiscating their property after adopting laws with the help of the Parliament – because they [thieves-in-law] have no large lobby in the Parliament any more - although they still have a minor one in the Parliament, and they were seen today [apparently referring to some leaders of the opposition], but have no serious support any more [in the Parliament] – they became seriously nervous. So against the background of support from the certain forces which are heard from the TV screens from the Parliament, from the streets, as well as against the background of the perpetual slamming of the Georgian police by [certain forces] – they [the criminal bosses] thought that it was a good time for an attack and a jailbreak.

I want everybody to know what kind of threat was posed to society – and Nino Burjanadze has spoken very well about this – 4,000 dangerous, desperate criminals could have escaped into the streets last night and this would have meant hundreds of stolen cars, hundreds of raped people, hundreds of robbed houses, hundreds of murder cases and many other disasters and disorders.

I want our society to recall that hundreds of criminals escaped from this very same [Tbilisi’s 5th] prison during the [presidency of late Zviad] Gamsakhurdia [in 1991] and civil war broke out, accompanied by robberies and disorders…

Then a coup [which ousted President Gamsakhurdia followed] after which bandits came into power and even those who remained [in the prisons] were released and it turned into a raid of Samegrelo [a region in western Georgia]…

I want to thank the Justice Ministry staff and the Georgian police, who have acted extremely professionally, who prevented us from this disaster. No one is happy about human casualties – it does not matter what kind of men they are – but we will protect the society with all available means - the rule of law and order in the frames of law…

Today Georgia is a state with a motivated, well-paid and professional police force and a Justice Ministry which is in the process of reforms. And this Ministry [of Justice] has our full support. Do not be afraid of the blackmail voiced from the TV, because our society consists of very intelligent people and even if they are told from the TV screens hundreds of times that black is white, they will still know that black is black and what is white…

We have announced a policy of zero tolerance and we should continue this policy, we should put everyone in jail in accordance with the law and we should amend the criminal procedure code so that no one can be released through conditional sentences… So we will amend this [criminal] code so as to put an end to petty crime once and for all… There will be zero tolerance…

I want organized crime and its supporters to know that no matter what kind of noise they will stage, whatever attempts or blackmail they will resort to… no matter how much money or influence they and their patrons have, we will reach out to each member and participant of organized crime and their supporters. It is not the 'wild west' where justice is sold for money…

I want to promise everyone that we will continue with all necessary measures… We should somehow finish constructing a new detention center in Gldani [suburb of Tbilisi] by the end of this year. The prison in Ortachala [Tbilisi’s 5th prison] should be destroyed, because technically it is impossible to totally provide security there and, on the other hand, the presence of this kind of prison in the center of the city is a threat…

The blast in the Kodori gorge [where a bullet damaged the power line there] and the effort to leave Georgia without electricity is the last attempt of organized crime to show signs of a struggle… There will be no talks with bandits; we have all the means to establish order…

If these people [the criminal world] decide to challenge us, we will accept this challenge. Let everyone – criminals and their political and other kinds of supporters – know that whatever they do, we will anyway establish order and people will feel safe and business will be launched without any threat of racketeering… our streets will be cleansed of this criminal rubbish through the protection of all laws and principles of democracy.”

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