The state will respond appropriately in the event of an attempt “to set fire to the country,” a senior lawmaker from the ruling party said on the morning of September 28 – the day after opposition parties called for mass protest rallies to challenge the arrest of ex-Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili.
Giga Bokeria, an influential MP from the ruling National Movement Party, has warned the opposition to refrain from “any violent actions.”
“Yesterday I heard several times the word ‘ouster.’ I want to warn everyone: the state’s response in the event of any violent action will be very severe,” Bokeria said. “Of course it will be within the law, but very severe.”
“Georgia is not on fire as some say,” MP Davit Kirkitadze from the ruling party said in a reference to Okruashvili’s remarks made on September 25. “And those who try to set fire to the country will be dealt with appropriately by the state.”
Shortly after Okruashvili’s arrest on extortion, money laundering, misuse of power and criminal negligence charges, on September 27 opposition politicians called on the people to gather outside Parliament on September 28 at 2 pm.
Politicians from Okruashvili’s new party were sometimes extremist in their choice of words, with many calling for what they termed the Saakashvili regime to be toppled. Many of the major opposition parties have already announced they would join the planned rally, but the New Rights Party said it would not participate.
“We will not take part in this,” MP Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party said on September 28. “What will change for the country if Saakashvili’s mafia is replaced by Okruashvili’s mafia? Will [Okruashvili] build a liberal democracy? Of course not.”
Coming two days after Okruashvili levelled a series of serious accusations personally against President Saakashvili, Okruashvili’s arrest has been condemned by the opposition parties as “purely politically motivated.”
Giga Bokeria of the ruling party, however, rejected this interpretation of events.
“Okruashvili's statements didn't trigger the arrest,” he said, “but rather the earlier arrests in the framework of the anti-corruption drive prompted Okruashvili to make the statements in order to create some kind of immunity and untouchable status.”
Bokeria was referring to the arrest of the ex-governor of Shida Kartli region, Mikheil Kareli – an Okruashvili associate - and the arrest of the president’s spokesman, Dimitri Kitoshvili. The latter has already given evidence against Okruashvili about his alleged involvement in extortion, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Bokeria also said that Okruashvili's arrest should be seen as an example of the government’s resolute determination to fight corruption.
“We have the rule of law and regardless of a person’s statements or political background, he will be punished in the event of misuse of power,” he said.
Mikheil Machavariani, the vice-speaker of the Parliament, made it clear that more arrests were to follow. An investigation into corruption cases, he said, was ongoing.
“We also want to ask that the General Prosecutor’s Office probe into those allegations – although we know that they were groundless – which were levelled by Okruashvili,” Machavariani said.