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Georgian authorities clear Parliament protest camp for New Year’s amusement park

31 December 2019
Municipal workers cleared away the protest camp early Tuesday morning and erected a New Year display in its place. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

Tbilisi City Hall has cleared the area in front of the Georgian Parliament of protest tents and banners in order to erect a temporary amusement park for the city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Police arrested 10 activists in the early hours of 31 December as members of the Shame anti-government movement tried to prevent municipal sanitary workers from clearing the site. 

The area in front of parliament has been continuously occupied by protesters with various grievances since June 2018.

Malkhaz Machalikashvili, who was the first to begin occupying the site, was among those evicted. ‘Please don’t bring your children here — where I have been demanding my son’s killer be identified’, he urged the following morning.

Machalikashvili’s son, Temirlan Machalikashvili, was shot dead in his bed by the security services in a December 2017 counterterror operation.

‘I'm trying to fight for your children too — so that they’re safe while sleeping in bed or on the streets’.

Malkhaz Machalikashvili speaking at a protest in front of parliament. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Temirlan’s family have insisted that their son was falsely accused of supporting terrorism. 

They have also accused the government of failing to adequately investigate his death, a claim echoed by local rights group the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), which is representing the family. 

In their latest effort, the family campaigned for over a year to convince lawmakers to set up a special investigative commission in parliament, only to meet resistance from the ruling Georgian Dream party. 

[Read by Tamta Mikeladze of EMC: Nearly two years after the killing of Temirlan Machalikashvili there are still no answers]

After an inflatable children’s slide deflated on Tuesday morning soon after being erected, the authorities cordoned off the area in front of parliament to set up another installation. 

As workers unloaded and brought items for the new installation, Temirlan’s mother, Mediko Margoshvili protested the City Hall’s decision and urged ‘all grieving mothers to join’ her near parliament.

Mediko Margoshvili, gave an emotional appeal to journalists. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

‘They killed my son in his bed and never investigated it. There is no place for children's attractions here’, she said.

‘Gavrilov’s night’

On 31 December, another anti-government youth group, Shetsvale (Change!), also protested the authorities’ decision to clear the area. They brought pictures of people injured during an anti-government rally on the spot in June.

Tents, protest stages, and posters and banners related to the protests had become a permanent fixture of the area around parliament before being cleared on Tuesday.

Photo: Eka Kevanishvili/RFE/RL.

The protest on 20 June followed Russian MP Sergey Gavrilov’s address from the seat of the speaker of the Georgian Parliament, something critics said was inappropriate and offensive given Russia’s role in the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. 

Later that night, the protest turned violent and police deployed rubber bullets and a water cannon, resulting in at least 240 people being hospitalised, including 80 police officers.

The dispersal of the crowd triggered daily protests in front of parliament demanding the resignation of then–Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia. Gakharia went on to become Prime Minister in September. 

The demonstration turned violent as protesters repeatedly attacked police lines. (Mari Nikuradze / OC Media)

Vakhtang Gomelauri, who headed Georgia’s State Security Service and was identified by the family of Temirlan Machalikashvili as being among those primarily responsible for his killing, replaced Gakharia as Interior Minister. 

[Read more on OC Media: Opposition and activists rally against Gakharia as Georgia’s next PM]

Kakha Kaladze, Tbilisi Mayor and General Secretary of Georgian Dream, acknowledged on Monday that allowing a Russian MP to address the Georgian parliament was the year’s biggest political mistake. 

Despite promising in late June to reform the country’s electoral system in response to the protests, MPs from Georgian Dream failed to pass the initiative in parliament in November.

Georgian Dream’s U-turn, as well as Gakharia’s promotion a month earlier, caused renewed waves of anti-government protests in front of parliament as lasting up to mid-December.

From 30 November to 20 December, the government held talks with opposition parties brokered by Western diplomats, eventually taking a time-out until the new year.

[Read more on OC Media: ‘Multi-member constituencies’ proposed as Georgian Dream– opposition talks restart]