From the 21st to the 26th May 2011, there were a series of protests in Georgia against the president, Mikheil Saakashvili. The protests broke out in the capital, Tbilisi. The protests started ahead of the military parades to celebrate Georgian independence day. The protesters were demanding the president’s resignation, claiming that he was doing nothing to tackle poverty, and that he was practicing authoritarian behaviour.
The protest on the 21st was led by Nino Burjanadze, a previous speaker of the parliament. The movement had been holding continuus demonstration in front of the Public Broadcasting building since, calling for Mr Saakashvili to step down from his role as president.
The president said that they had every right to freedom of speech but that their protests were not related to this.
10,000 people turned out to protest. Many of these are poor people struggling to survive in the country, especially with rising food costs, a large number of which are the elderly living on pensions. This meant that they became known as the Silver Revolution. In Georgia, 11.49% of people live in poverty. GDP/capita with Purchasing Power Parity adjustment is just US$2180.69 annually. People genuinely cannot pay for the food they need to survive. Further, they were accusing him of hoarding power since their Independence, and of using ties within the USofA and the EU to deflect human rights abuse allegations.
On May 25th 2011, protesters gathered in front of the parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue. The authorities warned that the protests would be broken up to make way for the independance day parades, which would be heading through the street. The protesters had a permit to hold a rally on May 25th that expired at midnight, though the fact that they needed a permit to protest is already concerning.
The protest was ended by thousands of riot police arriving at just after midnight, at 12:15, on the 26th to stop the peaceful protest. The police were backed by armoured cars firing water cannons and rubber bullets towards the crowd and fights quickly broke out between the police and the protesters. Teargas was used by the police in the operation. It took about 30 minutes to clear the area in front of parliament.
Two people were killed by a speeding car during the protests in the capital, while 40 others were injured by the police violence.
Police pursued fleeing protesters using rubber truncheons. One took shelter in a cinema, and was then detained and beaten. Large numbers of injured people were focused around the police station. Some protesters armed themselves with flag poles and makeshift shields to attack the police in return. One policeman died as he was hit by a car fleeing the venue.
“Even if the Tbilisi demonstration was unauthorized, nothing can justify the beating of largely peaceful demonstrators. Police responsible for beating protesters should be held to account. Even if the Tbilisi demonstration was unauthorized, nothing can justify the beating of largely peaceful protesters.” -said Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch.
The president blamed Russia for the unrest. “It was an attempt to hold protests in accordance with a scenario written outside Georgia and sought to thwart Independence Day celebrations, cause sabotage and mass disorder in the country. This day was chosen as a target by our occupiers,” –Saakashvili.
Russia has thousands of troops in two kremlin-backed rebel regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and recognises them as independant countries after Georgia became independant of the soviet union.
A Russian foreign military spokesman said that it was a glaring violation of human rights and freedoms but made no comment on the president’s accusations towards Russia.