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19 Dec, 2009 14:40

Two people killed during demolition of monument in Georgia

The removal of a World War II monument in the Georgian city of Kutasi has led to the death of two people. Also, several people have been injured and remain in critical condition.

The 8-storey-high monument was located in the middle of the city, surrounded by residential buildings and, as Georgia’s Prosecutor General, Murtaz Zodelava, has stated, security measures during the demolition had been breached.

Kutaisi authorities said the monument was beyond repair after being vandalized in the 1990s. It was finally scheduled for demolition after Georgia’s President, Mikhail Saakashvilli, decided to replace the memorial with a Parliament building.

The decision sparked an outcry across Georgia, with many seeing it as a sign of President Saakashvili’s desire to do away with anything connecting Georgia to Russia.

“This is yet another attempt at propaganda on behalf of Mr Saakashvili, who’s leading a campaign against the so-called post-Soviet symbols,” said opposition leader Kakha Kukava.

Former member of the Kutaisi City Council, Nugzar Avaliani called the demolition an act of vandalism.

“We gathered materials for the construction of the monument. The entire city took part in helping to construct this monument,” Avaliani recalls.

Nugzar Avaliani says the demolition of the monument is a worrying sign for Georgians, even though the government has promised to rebuild it in a new location:

“This monument is dedicated to those who fought against fascism. Its removal is, essentially, a sign of support for fascism in the 21st century.”

On Saturday, it seemed that the Georgian leadership finally gave up its plans when the Foreign Ministry said the monument was not being destroyed, but will undergo what they called “rehabilitation.” Several hours later, it fell to the ground in a cloud of smoke.

Russia has been outspoken about the removal of the monument. The Foreign Ministry said that this act of state vandalism is “insulting to any civilized person”.

The situation in Kutaisi echos events in another former Soviet republic. Two years ago, Estonian authorities relocated the statue of the Bronze Soldier from its location in the centre of the capital Tallinn. The removal led to street protests in which over a thousand people were arrested and one ethnic Russian was killed.

On learning of the tragedy, President Saakashvili interrupted his stay at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen to return to Georgia.