The opposition movement Georgian Dream mobilized tens of thousands of supporters in Tbilisi Sunday.
Crowds marched from three different locations in order to converge on Freedom Square. There, a stage had been assembled, from which the movement’s leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and other public persons addressed the crowd.
“Changing this regime is not my desire but duty,” Ivanishvili said in a long speech whose main point was that the parliamentary elections is an important crossroads for the country. The businessman promised to raise pensions to allow people to live a decent life.
“People aren’t’ afraid of Saakashvili, but there is distrust. So first what we need to do is to gain trust,” he said.
With him on stage were politicians who used to demand Saakashvili’s immediate resignation, but who now are speaking in more diplomatic terms.
“Our main message is ‘a free Georgia without Mikheil Saakashvili’. Saakashvili’s regime will end and the Georgian people can do this,” said Levan Gachechiladze, who was the opposition’s candidate in the last presidential election in 2008.
“The government knows well that it loses much, loses stolen money, property, but if we aren’t together we will lose real dignity,’ said Kakha Kaladze, the country’s most famous football player who used to play for A.C. Milan.
“Misha, people don’t believe in you anymore; you should go, you should learn how to leave and not run, as you ran from Gori in 2008,” Kaladze said, referring to the quick withdrawal of Georgian troops from the town Gori in the August 2008 war as Russian forces were approaching.
The main streets of the capital were blocked, and some buses had to wait with passengers onboard. There were crowds dressed in the colors of the Georgian Dream’s logo.
Estimates over number of demonstrators varied from less than fifty thousand, according to the ruling National Movement party, to organizers, who said there were more than 300 000, and that fifty thousand of them were their own activists.
Interpressnews reported 110 000 and said they would disclose their methodology later. AFP reported tens of thousands, while Eliso Chapidze, former editor of the newspaper Rezonansi who is now an advisor to Ivanishvili, said at least 250 000 showed up, which exceeded expectations.
The crowd was carrying both the current national flag with red crosses, as well as the old national flags in scarlet, black and white used under Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze. Some had colorful posters. Large screens were set up with a few hundred meters intervals to let people follow what was happening on stage.
At the entrances to Freedom Square it was crowded and hard to breathe. Flows of people were moving back and forward to find empty places.
“I came here to contribute a bit to change fate of our country,” one participant called Vakho told DF Watch.
“I can’t say I fully support Georgian Dream, but they seem better than what we have today,’ another person rallying on Freedom Square says, ‘my long years practice shows that there won’t be perfect or at least good government, whoever comes to the force, but change is important, so we need to change this government and maybe after another five years we will need to change them.”
Flags and t-shirts were distributed to people. Some arrived carrying whistles and megaphones. Trucks or large cars lead the group giving directions.
People living in the area come out of their houses to join the demonstration.
Two small TV stations covered the event live. Georgian Dream has been running advertisements for weeks, asking people to show up today. The showing was on the same level as during massive demonstrations in 2009, but this year the opposition is not asking President Saakashvili to step down.
Instead they look towards a parliamentary election in October. Today’s event marks the formal start of Georgian Dream’s election campaign. When Ivanishvili declared that he would go into politics last year, he said he intended to remove the current government through elections, and the formerly radical opposition has gathered around this aim.
Several opposition parties previously at odds with Ivanishvili’s movement today joined Georgian Dream, including Nino Burjanadze’s party and People’s Assembly, which was behind an anti-government campaign last spring.
In the morning, the press office of the political party reported that unknown people were trying to organize provocations.
“Today in several districts of Tbilisi some strangers distributed money and Georgian Dream t-shirts to local residents. They asked them to support the coalition and join the demonstration.”
The statement says that some people were taking video of the incidents.
But the day ended without violent incidents.
Yesterday there were several reports from the eastern Kakheti region saying that minibus chauffeurs were prohibited from working on Sunday and therefore prevented from carrying people to the capital. Organizers say people who participated in today’s rally were only from Tbilisi.
Now, Georgian Dream plans to continue their election campaign with rallies in other parts of Georgia, first in Kutaisi on June 7.