A clash erupted between Georgian Dream activists and supporters of the authorities in the village of Karaleti in Shida Kartli region, which escalated into stone-throwing, injuring more than dozen of people, including many journalists.
A large group of Georgian Dream activists arrived in Karaleti, where a settlement for families displaced as a result of the August, 2008 war is located in the Gori district, as part of a campaign in the region to call on the locals to join Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s campaign rally in the town of Gori planned for July 15. Activists were led by some of the senior figures from the coalition, including Kakha Kaladze, a retired footballer, who was a captain of the Georgian national team, as well as ex-public defender Sozar Subari.
After the activists arrived in the village, some local men started shouting at them “you Putinists”, “you Russia's whores”, “traitors get out of here”. In response to chants by Georgian Dream activists “long live Georgian Dream”, their opponents were chanting “Misha, Misha”. At some point verbal confrontation grew into a fistfight. According to some local journalists, representatives from the local administration were also involved in the incident. The clash then grew into stone-throwing, forcing Georgian Dream activists to leave the scene.
According to the Georgian Public Defender’s Office (PDO) thirteen people arrived in the Gori hospital for treatment following the incident. Injuries, reportedly, were not serious. According to PDO among those physically assaulted were ten journalists, mainly from Channel 9, a television station owned by Ivanishvili’s wife, as well as from Channel 9’s news agency Info9.
“A group of citizens verbally insulted participants of the rally [in Karaleti], which grew into a physical confrontation. As a result several participants of the rally and journalists were injured,” the Georgian Public Defender said in a statement. “We call on the law enforcement agencies to immediately take prompt and efficient measures to identify wrongdoers.”
The Georgian Interior Ministry said that it was investigating the incident, when “verbal insults between the activists of the political party Georgian Dream and their opponents escalated into the clashes.” It said that the police were in the process of identifying persons involved in the incident. The Interior Ministry also called on “everyone to exercise restraint”.
After the incident, Kakha Kaladze accused the authorities of provoking the clash, claiming that close associates of a ruling party majoritarian MP from the region, Badri Basishvili, were involved. MP Basishvili denied the allegations, telling InterPressNews agency that Kaladze and his companions provoked the clash after verbally insulting locals.
A senior ruling party lawmaker, Pavle Kublashvili, also said that it was Kaladze to be blamed and stressed that Kaladze’s companions were even wielding handguns. In one footage a man, who probably was a security guard of Kaladze, is seen with a pistol in his hand as Kaladze and other Georgian Dream activists were leaving the scene with their opponents throwing stones at them.
Deputy Secretary of Georgian National Security Council, Tamar Kintsurashvili, who is also a member of Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF), expressed regret over the incident. She said that in number of cases previously political parties were informing IATF about their campaign meetings in advance with a purpose to prevent any possible incidents.
“In this case [of Karaleti] no such communication took place and we were not informed in advance about that meeting [in Karaleti]. It is regrettable that such a fact took place and we hope that the police will identify those involved in the incident,” Kintsurashvili said.
There have been several minor incidents during the Georgian Dream’s campaign meetings in the villages of Shida Kartli region recently, but the July 12 incident in Karaleti was second serious one in less than three weeks. A fistfight erupted in the village of Mereti also in Shida Kartli region, close to the administrative border with breakaway South Ossetia, on June 26 when Bidzina Ivanishvili was holding a campaign meeting with locals. Four people, including two Georgian Dream activists, were arrested and jailed for ten days.