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28 Apr, 2009 12:04

Georgian protest chronicle: toilets, football & prayers

Georgian protest chronicle: toilets, football & prayers

More spheres of everyday Georgian life are becoming embroiled in the ongoing political protests. The latest point of conflict between opposition and authorities are portable toilets.

Tbilisi authorities have refused to take care of the basic necessities of the crowds protesting in the city. Despite numerous requests, they refuse to provide portable chemical toilets for several thousand people who gather in front of the parliament building every day, and the only permanent installation of its kind is located several hundred meters away, as Novie Izvestia newspaper reports.

The opposition blames the city officials of deliberately stalling the issue. On Monday, they built makeshift toilets over sewer manholes. The plastic cabins have the slogan “Shame to the Mayor’s office!” written on them.

Earlier last week, Tbilisi authorities had another quarrel with the protesters. After a beating incident, they refused to collect garbage produced by the rallying people, so that the opposition parties had to organize the service themselves. A conflict got ugly when one of the garbage trucks rented by the activists was seized by the police.

Beatings and dialogue

Meanwhile opposition reports of numerous attacks on their activists by unidentified assailants on Monday night.

Two young men were beaten as they returned from the rally near the Georgian parliament, the leader of ‘News Rules’ opposition group David Gamkrelidze told journalists on Tuesday. They were attacked by a large group of people near a metro station.

In a separate incident a group of protesters driving home in a car was chased and stopped by unknown attackers. Opposition activists claim they were then subjected to beatings.

Outside of Tbilisi, the head of regional staff for an opposition party Vano Lomidze was attacked when he stopped in a village on his way to the eastern town of Kvareli. He was dragged out of his car and assaulted, and his vehicle was set on fire, according to the member of the opposition Republican party Tinatin Khidasheli.

Georgian officials continue to call the opposition for a dialogue. The latest senior public servant to come with a statement of reconciliation was parliament chair David Bakradze. On Monday, he said he hoped for a dialogue, but refrained from revealing any detail on undercover negotiations that happened on weekend, because “any specific information may harm the process.”

The opposition groups, however, seem resilient in their bid to make Mikhail Saakashvili resign from the Georgian presidency. They continue everyday rallies in Tbilisi and their ‘stalking campaign’ against the president.

Football woes is their blame too

While protesters’ claims focus on political and economical oversights they see in the work of Georgian government and President Saakashvili, a lack of sporting success is also becoming part of the blame game.

On Monday, the leader of the opposition party ‘National Forum’ Irakli Melashvili called his supporters to rally in front of the national football federation’s building in a protest against the poor performance of the Georgian team, reports RIA Novisti news agency.

“We must find out why our team gets defeated by world’s weakest teams,” he said as cited by agency News-Georgia.

He added that many football fans hold sport officials responsible for the team’s misfortunes. At the moment Georgia ranks 109th in FIFA rating. It is, however, not the first time that sports and politics had combined in Georgia.

During an opposition rally after last year’s parliamentary elections, organizers televised on a huge screen the UEFA Cup Final game between Chelsea and Manchester United, which was underway in Moscow at the time.

Penance calls by Orthodox Church

Meanwhile, the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilya II called both the country’s leadership and the opposition for a prayer of penance on Tuesday.

“There will be a prayer of penance for our sins throughout Georgia. There will be a prayer of remission. In all dioceses, in all churches priests will be granting absolution. On this very important day I call to the authorities, to our opposition, to come to church and repent for our sins together. The one of greater spirituality will cede to the other. I hope with God’s help Georgia will be saved,” quotes the patriarch RIA Novosti.

The call was met with obedience by the protesting flock, but they showed little will to stop protests. Opposition leader Salome Zurabishvili said church penance was ‘a deeply personal thing’ and that “those who did so many illegal actions should repent first.”