TBILISI, DFWatch — Violent clashes broke out as some of the central figures in President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party were trying to enter the National Library to listen to the state of the nation address.
Two rallies were ongoing in the area: One by former political prisoners who were recently released under a mass amnesty, gathered outside the library. Another crowd of activists from Saakashvili’s National Movement (UNM) was gathered in a nearby park.
The trouble began about one hour before President Saakashvili’s planned 18:00 televised address was to have begun. When the UNM activists came to the library the two crowds clashed together.
Then Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava arrived, with several members of parliament for the UNM. Ugulava himself was beaten, but not visibly injured, and he and his wife were prevented from entering the building.
Ugulava then left. Some of the UNM party activists were visibly injured during the chaos. Member of Parliament Chiora Taktakishvili appeared on Channel 1 with a bloody nose.
Then interior minister Irakli Gharibashvili arrived, and the crowd applauded as he tried to calm them down. He said that the Ministry of Internal Affairs offered the opposition a safe corridor to enter the building but they turned down the offer.
He called on the protesters to leave, and they soon left and walked to President Saakashvili’s residence. The state of the nation address, which was scheduled to be held at 18:00 at the National Library, was rescheduled for 20:00 at the president’s palace in Avlabari, in the old part of the capital.
The speech started at about 21:10. Upon entering, the president received a standing ovation from some of the audience, which included foreign diplomats who had relocated to the palace’s conference hall.
Originally, the speech was to have been held in the new parliament building in Kutaisi, but Georgian Dream postponed it.
The opposition National Movement denies that they were offered safe passage and accuses the ruling Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili of having masterminded the attacks.
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