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Georgia: Opposition rally attendances wane, tensions increase

tbilisi_crowd

Yesterday, thousands of demonstrators once again rallied in Tbilisi for a third day of protests demanding the resignation of the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili. The Real Clear World blog details the events so far.

Picking up where Moldovan actions left off, mass anti-government protest is taking place in Georgia's capital Tbilisi. […] The protesters gave the president till 4:00pm on April 10 to comply with their demands. Saakashvili did not accept the ultimatum, and expressed his willingness to “dialogue with the opposition”, while confirming that he did not intend to leave his post before the expiration of his official duties.

Opponents of the president blame him for drawing Georgia into armed conflict with Russia last August, as well as the for the loss of break-away provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. […]

Once again, the GIPA Journalism School Blog, a collaborative project between Armenian, Azeri and Georgian journalism students, reports on the latest developments, including news of a second attack on the Why? Public Movement.

No one was hurt in the attack, which occurred on Tabukashvili Street, near the activist group’s office. The group members had earlier in the evening noticed two unfamiliar cars parked near their office. When two of the activists, a male and female, walked to a nearby shop, ten men carrying clubs […] confronted them on the street. They tore the man’s shirt, and tried to grab the girl and put her in the trunk of a car.

[…]

Five minutes later, about eight other Why? Activists were returning to the office, and were also attacked by the same group of men […]. Again, the attackers approached the group with their clubs. But several activists fought with attackers and broke one of their car windows. […]

Another GIPA student at Radiobedniereba’s Blog also reports that another attack came late last night, but this time the target was computers and sound equipment.

Witnesses reported that around 50 men dressed in casual clothes came to Rustaveli Avenue together with a municipal street-cleaning crew and damaged equipment and and assaulted several people — though no one was hurt — standing in front of the parliament, said the opposition leaders, at 12:15 a.m. at a press briefing.

Tweets on #tbilisi also carried news of the attack.

CivilGe: Opposition leaders said up to 50 unknown men with batons ‘raided’ and ‘damaged’ equipment in opp. press center outside parliament #tbilisi

[…]

dv0rsky: Police deputy minister claims it was #tbilisi street cleaning service who came in confrontation with opposition

Despite the unprecedented use of Twitter, blogs and the online media to report on the protests in Tbilisi, Ketiebanoidze’s Blog says the situation is very different when it comes to television coverage.

Saturday afternoon, opposition leaders for the third time in four days have gone to the public television station to demand more and better coverage of anti-government protests. […]

[…]

Television news stations in the Soviet Union were considered instruments of the state and mouthpieces of the government, a practice that carries into many former Soviet Republics even today. […]

The Tbilisi Blues comments on yesterday's incident as well, and says that the opposition is also unhappy with foreign journalists covering the protests.

Last night, as the city street cleaners were dispatched to clean up the mess in front of parliament, a scuffle broke out and a group of guys raided the opposition set up and destroyed computers from their press center. The opposition says the government was behind the raid. The government of course denies the accusation. […]

So, it could have been some pro-government thugs being thuggish. […] Yet why would they take a chance and ruin what they have achieved by being non-confrontational?

[…]

Today a local journalist from Rezonansi newspaper asked me if it's true the government is paying my bills for me. I asked her to repeat herself. Somebody had called her paper and said us foreign correspondents are getting a free ride from the government to write bad things about them.

I told her no, that's not true. It is one truth I am absolutely certain of.

tbilisi_palace

    Protesters in front of President's residence demand his resignation © Sabina Akbarova / GIPA, Licensed under Creative Commons

Nevertheless, despite dwindling attendances at rallies, the situation appears to becoming more tense, especially now that the opposition has embarked on a campaign of civil disobedience. Natalie5n's Blog reports.

[…] the civility that marked the beginning of anti-government protests on Thursday was gone by Sunday, as about 600-700 protesters gathered again on Rustaveli Avenue in front of Parliament at 3 p.m. Opposition leaders will announce their planes at 4 p.m.

Though opposition leaders had originally announced the pre-Easter holiday […] as a break for protesters, plans changed after an attack on a main opposition protest sight in front of Parliament late Saturday night.

Unfortunately, Guy Degen has left Georgia so it's uncertain whether there will be any more live mobile video reports streamed online, but before he did, the Frontline Club blogger paid a visit to introduce the technology to GIPA students.

More updates will be posted on Global Voices Online as of when, but in the meantime it's worth keeping an eye on the GIPA Journalism School Blog as well as Twitter at #tbilisi.

Coverage of the first and second day of protests is also available on Global Voices Online.

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