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8 Nov, 2007 11:15

State of emergency in Georgia: independent media gagged

Mikhail Saakashvili has declared a 15-day state of emergency. Public gatherings are forbidden and independent TV and radio news has been suspended. Classes have been postponed in Tbilisi schools and universities until Monday.

Meanwhile, the state of emergency may only last two days if it stays calm, according to the vice-speaker of the Georgian parliament.

It seems very quiet in Tbilisi, though there are lots of traffic jams. Many roads have been closed off, including the central Rustaveli Boulevard, the scene of much of Wednesday's violence. 

According to Wednesday's reports, more than 500 victims of the violence are in hospitals across the city. They're suffering from gas poisoning and other physical injuries received during the clashes between riot police and protesters.

Opposition leaders say that they've asked people not to take to the streets of Tbilisi on Thursday so as to avoid bloodshed.

Imedi TV which has been called ‘the voice of opposition in Georgia’ was shut down on Wednesday. It was broadcasting live when the presenter in the studio suddenly announced that there were riot police and special forces in the building. They then detained the TV channel's employees.

The only TV channel that is still broadcasting news is Georgia's national television channel. All the other TV channels that remain on air are broadcasting programmes such as movies and documentaries.

Meetings, public gatherings and demonstrations are also forbidden during the period.

Whether such moves will keep people off the streets remains to be seen – or not… given the news blackout.

Russian reaction

The Russian Foreign Ministry has expelled three Georgian diplomats in response to a similar move by Georgia on Wednesday.

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.

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

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin made a special statement on the issue.

We are extremely concerned about the development of events in Tbilisi. We consider this introduction of a state of emergency in the country, and the wish to portray Russia as an enemy confirms the inability of the Georgian leadership to resolve their own internal domestic political problems in a civilised manner,” he said.

During Wednesday’s violent clashes in Tbilisi police fired at the crowd using imported non-lethal weapons. As well as water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets, Georgian police also used a unique ultrasound machine which disoriented people.

The riot police units that scattered the Tbilisi protesters were trained by U.S. instructors, and it's due to the U.S. training programme that the Georgian riot police managed to do what they did, according to Leonid Ivashov,  Vice-President at the Academy of Geopolitical Studies in Moscow.

“The Americans did a good job in training them. The demonstrators were scattered quite professionally. This year, Georgia's received over $US 10 million – more than any other CIS state. Georgian police applied modern anti-riot machines and up-to-date methods of fighting demonstrators,” he commented.

The Chairman of Russia's State Duma, Boris Gryzlov, said that what is happening in Tbilisi is “a fight against the Georgian people.”  

“With more than 500 people taken to hospital after the demonstration was broken up, it can only be described as bloodshed. This is what we’ve been afraid of. I hope Georgia’s government will come to its senses and change its tactics of fighting against its own people,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Georgian ambassador to Russia is expected to leave Moscow by midnight on Thursday.

The police placed additional posts in the streets next to the Georgian embassy in Moscow in case of protests by the Georgian diaspora in the Russian capital.

International reaction

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

Sorry for My egnlish I am from gorgia Tbilisi

We are not barbarians, we do not looters, we are not agents of Russia!. We were people who were peacefully expressing their opposition.

We hunted gas at us, beat us, shoot. We fled and could not run away!

We were deprived of television radio. We are deaf and blind. We were arrested and beaten.

We supported Europe and America! We want to NATO! Save us please!

Saakashvili dictator. We are wrong! We were deceived!

The international organisation Human Rights Watch has condemned the use of force against the protesters.

They say the beating up journalists and shutting down TV stations just because they are reporting on the situation in the country cannot be justified.

NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, says the state of emergency in Georgia is worrying to the organisation and does not correspond to its values.

Ariel Cohen, a political analyst in Moscow, says the event in Georgia will affect its aspirations to  EU and NATO membership:

“I think that President Saakashvili understands that his agenda of joining the European Union and NATO will be judged through the prism of current events. If Georgia and Mr Saakashvili personally will pay the price or not remains to be seen – it is too early to tell. But what's happened is going to influence decision-makers everywhere with regard to Georgia.”

The U.S. State Department said that political differences in the country should be worked out in a peaceful way.

The presidents of the Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have also given their response to the events in Tbilisi.

Abkhazian leader, Sergey Bagapsh, has accused President Saakashvili of tyranny, and said his course of action is aimed at destabilising the situation in the country.

Bagapsh added that the current crisis could lead to a war with either Abkhazia or South Ossetia because it would divert attention away from the problems in Georgia.

Meanwhile South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoyty, has called on Saakashvili to resign.

Kokoyty says the breakaway republic' ready to negotiate with anyone who supports finding a peaceful solution to the conflicts.