TBILISI, DFWatch–Police in Georgia Wednesday dispersed a peaceful protest organized by students and youth groups that wanted to mark the International Workers’ Day, May 1.
About twenty persons, including a journalist, were detained by police and later released. Some participants were beaten, including minors and girls. The Interior Ministry claims the police were trying to maintain public order and detained some of the participants for vandalism.
The well-known youth organization Laboratoria 1918 announced about one month ago that it was organizing a peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi May 1 to mark International Workers’ Day, and spread the word through distributing fliers and commercials and engaging in online activism.
The youth group was joined by Young Greens, Feminist Organization and a few mine workers and gathered on Wednesday at Tbilisi State University, then walked down toward Heroes’ Square.
There, the demonstrators blocked the road and continued their march to Aghmashenebeli Avenue, holding posters carrying messages like ‘Don’t negotiate with the bosses, abolish them’; ‘Work, consume, die,’ and ‘No to sexist labor code’.
The first police cars appeared on the bridge over the river Mtkvari, trying to force protesters to leave the car road and move them to the side, but were unsuccessful.
The number of policemen on Aghmashenbeli Avenue grew, and there was a verbal confrontation between them and the protesters. Another attempt by the police to disperse the crowd was unsuccessful. Then the road was blocked. The number of participants was a few hundred, and the road did not stay blocked for long.
The protesters stopped at the head branch of TBC Bank, one of the largest banks in Georgia, and shouted slogans about protecting the rights of ordinary workers and guards. One of the participants spray painted anarchist symbols on the walls and windows of the bank. The police tried to stop them, without serious incidents.
Next stop was at Georgian Manganese, the company which owns the manganese mines in Chiatura, a town in western Georgia. Again some of the protesters wrote different messages on the walls of the building. Police and guards working in the building shouted, but the demonstrators left the building soon and walked to Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare.
Their plan was to pass through Rustaveli Avenue and stop outside the Ministry of Economy; but right in the beginning of Rustaveli there was a first physical confrontation with police. One of the female participants was hit allegedly by a policeman, which caused a first clash.
Tens of policemen crushed rally participants squashing them together, including children and journalists. Some were beaten and there were people who had visible injuries like a bleeding nose and light bruises.
Some of the students were forced into a police car. Then the next scuffle took place in front of the old post office near Rustaveli metro station. Several girls and boys were detained. Tens of police took them by their hands and feet and placed them in a car.
DF Watch witnessed how a few policemen ran over to one of the injured boys sitting on the stairs and took him into a police car. A few more clashes took place on Rustaveli, and it all ended outside the old parliament building.
Then the road was opened. The protesters headed to the Ministry of Economy to sum up the rally and agreed to meet later outside the police station in the Samgori district, where the detainees had been taken.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs explained at a briefing in the evening that during the demonstration students violated the public order, and that one private car and one police car were damaged.
“Police several times called for putting situation in order, but participants didn’t obey and police detained them according to administrative rules,” the ministry explained.
The detainees, who were released after signing a statement, will have to appear in Tbilisi City Court on Thursday.
Organizers of the demonstration claim most of the detainees were members of Laboratoria 1918.
The released students claim the police used force against them and that they weren’t violating any rules, because the number of protesters were too high and it wasn’t possible to walk on the sidewalks, and that’s why the roads were blocked.
Some claim that they were detained for having demanded the interior minister’s resignation.
Organizers of the rally later said in a short statement that the government and minister of interior should properly study the case and take measures to avoid similar incidents in the future.
During the rally, police attempted to interrupt journalists and photographers in their work. One of the journalist of a weekly magazine was detained.
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