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At ‘Stop Russia’ Rally Protesters Slam Govt’s Policies
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 18 Jul.'15 / 23:38


Protesters outside State Chancellery at ‘Stop Russia’ rally, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Few thousand people gathered outside government’s office in downtown Tbilisi on Saturday evening at a rally under the slogan “Stop Russia” to protest against Russia’s “creeping occupation” and Georgian authorities’ policies towards Moscow, condemning it as “cowardice.”  


Demonstrators at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government’s office in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Tabula media outlet and Rustavi 2 TV, as well as think-tank Georgia’s Reforms Associates, rights and watchdog groups Georgian Democracy Initiative, Media Development Fund, Tolerance and Diversity Institute were among the organizers of the rally.


Protesters outside State Chancellery at ‘Stop Russia’ rally, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

In the run up to the rally, earlier on July 18, police did not allow a truck with stage equipment to park at the protest venue, arresting one of the organizers Lexo Machavariani of the Tabula media outlet.


Demonstrators at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government’s office in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

The protest rally came a week after Russian troops placed “border” signposts at the South Ossetian administrative boundary line in the short distance from Georgia’s main east-west highway, leaving a mile-long portion of the BP-operated Baku-Supsa oil pipeline on the area outside Tbilisi’s control.


Demonstrator at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government’s office holds a banner reading “Stop Bidzina” – referring to ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

At the rally, which has been downplayed and dismissed by PM Irakli Garibashvili as a gathering of pro-UNM “idlers” and a small group of “resentful, grudgeful” people, protesters were saying that instead of countering Russia’s soft and hard power against Georgia, the government’s policies were on the contrary contributing to the increase of Moscow’s influence in the country.


Police officers look on as demonstrators hold posters at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government building in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Addressing protesters Salome Samadashvili, who was Georgia’s ambassador to the EU in 2005-2013, said: “Russian-funded political forces are strengthening and if it continues we may forever lose a chance to live in a modern European state; but we will not let it happen.”


Police officers look on as protesters rally at ‘Stop Russia’ demonstration outside government building in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

“We came here to protest against Russia’s actions and to also protest against actions of the Georgian government, which are cowardice, stupid and treacherous,” Giga Bedineishvili, dean of the business school at the Tbilisi-based Free University, told protesters.


Demonstrators hold a poster at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government building in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

“We gathered here to tell our government that we do not like their harmful policy and to demand from them to defend the country from the Russian occupation,” Nino Danelia, professor of journalism at the Tbilisi-based Ilia State University.


Demonstrators at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government’s office in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Protesters were also calling for scrapping a bilateral format of dialogue between Georgia and Russia, which are carried out since late 2012 by Georgian PM’s special envoy for Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin. The demand has long been pushed for by the opposition UNM party, which says that this format creates “false impression” of normalization of bilateral relations. Another parliamentary opposition party, Free Democrats, which was part of the Georgian Dream ruling coalition till November, 2014, has also called for abandoning this format of dialogue, arguing that it has “exhausted itself”. 


One of the organizers of the rally Tamar Chergoleishvili, editor-in-chief of Tabula, addresses demonstrators outside the government building, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

“Each and every government of this country should understand that we should not be sitting alone face-to-face with Russia for dialogue – it’s unequal dialogue; our friends should be backing us [in talks]; sitting alone with Russia is against our country’s interests,” Tamar Chergoleishvili, editor-in-chief of Tabula, told protesters at the rally.


Demonstrators hold a poster at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government building in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Former Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, who now chairs Georgian Democracy Initiative NGO told protesters: “For more than two years, under the current government, we have been watching destruction of what was built in previous year – destruction of our European future.”


A demonstrator holds a poster at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government building in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Nika Gvaramia, head of Rustavi 2 TV, said while addressing the rally: “We came here to make our voice heard to the government… Time has come for making a tough and significant political declaration that Georgia will not tolerate continuation of occupation; we need more clear statements and voicing them on the international arena. And we need it not only from NGOs, patriotic and pro-European media sources, but from the government.”


Demonstrator at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government building in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Protesters were also calling on the Parliament to adopt “a law against collaborationism.”


Banner at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally reads: “No to Collaborationism; No to Cooperation with Enemy”, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge


Demonstrator holds a poster at the ‘Stop Russia’ rally outside government building in Tbilisi, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Commenting on the protest rally, PM Irakli Garibashvili told journalists: “There are many idlers and they – UNM and their supporters – have nothing else to do. 500 people gathered – that their constitutional right and we are the state, which allows even the [United] National [Movement supporters] to rally and we protect them.”


Protesters outside State Chancellery at ‘Stop Russia’ rally, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

“It’s their right to hold a rally and speak about the problems, which they have left,” Garibashvili said. “This is because of these very people that we have additional 25,000 internally displaced people, 150 more lost villages – all those territories and those [border marker] banners are ‘thanks’ to Saakashvili and UNM… That’s the reality which has to be protested.”


Protesters outside State Chancellery at ‘Stop Russia’ rally, July 18, 2015. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

“Be it 50 or 500 people – they can gather and protest whatever they want. We are building and we will build the country and better future for our children – that’s our major motivation and not whether 50 resentful, grudgeful people would rally or not,” PM Garibashvili said.

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