Georgia gags media in political crackdown

The Georgian government has declared a nationwide state of emergency after a day of violence in Tbilisi. Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. News channels were raided and shut down. President Saakashvili is blaming Russia

The 15-day state of emergency is already operational.  It silences opposition media voices in Georgia and bans the right to protest. 

Hundreds were injured in the clashes
Hundreds were injured in the clashes

Only State-run TV and radio stations will be allowed to broadcast.

Announcing the measure, Economic Development Minister Georgy Arveladze said the President had acted constitutionally. 

He said it would “affect the receiving and spreading of information, the freedom of public gatherings, rallies and strikes.”

“Information will only be spread through Georgian public TV and Radio. The decree has been published so is already in force,” Mr Arverladze said.

Two TV stations were immediately blacked out. Police forced their way into the studio of the leading opposition station ‘Imedi TV’ and stopped the broadcasts.  

'Imedi' was recently sold by influential Georgian businessman, Badri Patarkatsishvili to the western media holding News Corp.

Mr Patarkatsishvili has strongly backed the opposition demonstrations.

The clashes between police and opposition protesters have injured hundreds of people. Most of them were poisoned by tear gas used by the police.

The day's violent events

Security forces in Tbilisi cleared protesters from outside the parliament building in following five days of demonstrations.

Opposition protesters were demanding early elections and the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

About 70,000 people took part in the demonstrations.  Many were involved in clashes with police.

Russia Today's own correspondent Ekaterina Azarova and cameraman Evgeny Litovko, were caught up in the police crackdown. They were conducting a live television broadcast when special forces began to spray tear gas, as a result of which our team suffered tear-gas poisoning.

To watch RT’s coverage of the events, please follow the link.

Opposition supporters began to return to the Parliament building after the police broke up the rally early on Wednesday. The protesters planned to stage another rally but were again confronted by riot police.


When a government goes against its own people, brings in troops and uses tear gas – then that government will end up in jail. That’s what will happen to Saakashvili’s government.

 

Georgy Haindrava
Opposition leader

The Speaker for the Georgian Parliament, Nino Burdhanadze, has called on the opposition to stop the protests and to resume talks.

“I address every Georgian citizen and call for calm. It's not the time for ultimatums. We must do everything in order not to damage our state. We will resume the dialogue with the opposition as soon as the police return to its barracks,” she said.

Georgia blames Russia

The government is blaming Moscow for orchestrating an attempted coup and has expelled three Russian diplomats.

President Mikhail Saakashvili addressed the nation to explain the crackdown.

He blamed 'evil forces' directed from Moscow for stirring up unrest.  

“We will not allow the special services of another country to undermine Georgia,” Mr Saakashvili said. 

Mikhail Saakashvili addressing the nation.
Mikhail Saakashvili addressing the nation.

The President said Russia had 'great experience' in destabilising other countries, but said it had 'no chance' of succeeding.
 
“While Russia has practically annexed Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region – to allow massive clashes in Georgia is to threaten its existence. The time for demonstrations and counter demonstrations is over. We will allow no more violence,” he said.   

President Saakashvili said several spies working as diplomats in the Russian embassy will be expelled for stirring up political unrest in Georgia.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry later revealed the names of Russian officials declared persona non grata.

The President added that he could prove that Russian security services are behind attempts to sabotage the stability in Georgia. Mr Saakashvili promised that the proof will be made public soon.

He also said the authorities will do everything ‘to prevent destabilisation and chaos’. The use of force against the opposition rally was necessary to restore order, he believes, and was absolutely lawful.

“We gave people the right to protest but they used force against us. We have the right to use force against them as in any democratic country,” Mikhail Saakashvili said.

Georgian Ambassador to Russia, Irakly Chubinishvili, has reportedly been recalled to Tbilisi.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says it will find an adequate response to the removal of Russian diplomats from Georgia signalling the possibility of a tit-for-tat expulsion.

It has urged Tbilisi against taking what it calls 'destructive steps'.

Georgian police using sound guns, tear gas  
                          and water cannons against protesters
Georgian police using sound guns, tear gas and water cannons against protesters


Reaction

The Kremlin has labelled President Saakashvili’s accusations and the expulsion of Russian diplomats as 'anti-Russian hysteria'.

Moscow says Saakashvili's talk of human rights doesn't square up with the actions of the police on the streets of Tbilisi.

Head of the Duma's Constitution Committee Vladimir Pligin says the current turmoil inside Georgia has nothing to do with external Russian influence.  He says the allegations against Russia are groundless.  

“Objective observers and experts from different countries and agencies stressed that this is an internal problem of Georgia today,” Mr Pligin said.  

“It was all started by people who were against the Russian policy and they are not supportive of the Russian Federation,” Mr Pligin added.

Georgian Ombudsman, Sozar Subari, has called the security crackdown on protesters unconstitutional. He also said that the country ‘is ruled not by laws, but according to the wishes of certain individuals.’  

He also said that he witnessed people lying on the ground being beaten.

“I tried to stop them, but was severely beaten. What's more they did it deliberately, since those who did it knew that I am Georgia’s Public Defender. But I have no regrets – some people have had worse,” Mr Subari said.

Governments around the world have also been reacting to events in Tbilisi.

The U.S. State Department says it supports the right for peaceful protest in Georgia and called for an end to violence.

The European Union says it hopes a solution will be found through constitutional regulations.

Chairman of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), Miguel Moratinos, expressed concern over events, calling on the two sides to open talks based on democratic principles.