People who came to commemorate the deaths of peaceful pro-independence demonstrators in 1989 were forcibly removed by police right before Mikheil Saakashvili arrived. Some were driven to other parts of Tbilisi. (Photo: Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch – They came holding candles to commemorate the twenty people who died here twenty three years ago. But police cleared them away to make room for President Mikheil Saakashvili’s April 9 event.

Just before Saakashvili was to hold his speech, police forced people away from the April 9 memorial. Some were even driven to another district of the city.

This was the day when Soviet forces dispersed a peaceful rally in 1989, leading to twenty deaths, and also the day when Georgia announced its independence in 1991.

Every year people gather at the memorial in front of the parliament building, light candles to remember those who died, at a time when people demonstrated peacefully to demand that Georgia be separated from the Soviet Union.

Saakashvili’s event took place mainly in front of soldiers inside the courtyard and protected from the public by iron gates, but the president also paid a visit to the area around the memorial, which is located near Tbilisi’s main street, Rustaveli Avenue. This is where the incident happened.

Genadi Kekelia, from Refugee Civil Movement told DF Watch he came to the memorial early in the morning. By five in the evening police started gathering and taking people away from that place.

He says for the whole day people were coming with flowers and candles to honor the memory of dead.

“There also were heard loud protests of non-satisfied citizens and employees of Constitutional Security Department dressed in civilian clothes who caught them on video.”

He also says the police came over to those who were most active and took them away from the area around the memorial, as Saakashvili was about to come.

“Many people with social needs were standing there. One old person was saying that he had to tell the president about problems, but unfortunately he was also taken away. It seems they were ordered that Saakashvili shouldn’t have to meet any dissatisfied person and they carried out that order. I even heard that one of Constitutional Security Department employees was telling the other ‘immediately get these people out of here, technically take all away from here’.”

It’s common practice in Georgia that people try to personally present their problems to officials, especially to the president or give appropriate letter to them. The president’s guard tries not to allow these people to him.

Kekelia says they took away several more people, but he doesn’t know who they were.

Shota Utiashvili, head of Interior Ministry’s Analytical Department says he doesn’t know anything about this incident. The president’s security is provided by state guard, which is not under the Interior Ministry, he added.