In a televised speech, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili emphasized that Georgia respects the democratic right to protest, and blamed Moscow for the developing crisis.
Less than two hours after his statements, the pro-opposition television station Imedi, owned by News Corp., was closed by Special Forces as its nightly news broadcast was in progress. The station was attacked earlier in the day by ruling National Movement Party parliamentary majority leader Maia Nadiradze for inciting protesters.
In remarks that echoed earlier accusations by government supporters, the president claimed that an "alternative government" has been set up in Moscow, and that plans exist to install that government in Georgia by the end of the year.
"A machine of lies is working against us. That machine of lies was born in a country very close to us ... this situation was born [there] ... they are trying to destroy us," he told viewers.
The Georgian parliament's human rights ombudsman, Sozar Subari, denounced the Saakashvili administration's actions. "It has been established today that we are Lukashenko's Belarus, and not a beacon of democracy," Subari was quoted as saying by the Civil Georgia website.
In an appeal for calm, Saakashvili raised memories of Georgia's turbulent post-independence period and civil war. "We all remember '92," he said, referring to a time when parts of downtown Tbilisi were left in ruins following civil strife. "We will not allow this to repeat itself."
Saakashvili called for protesters to return home, saying that "[w]e cannot allow huge clashes and riots" that "threaten our future." Police action against protesters was "civilized," he asserted, though added that "my heart hurts that violence was used against the protesters - and it was used in several places."
Government officials have defended the use of force, claiming the 10-party opposition movement is infiltrated with Russian agents and engaged in "grave crimes." The Georgian ambassador to Russia, Irakli Chubinishvili, was called back to Tbilisi on November 7 "for consultations" in connection with the protests, according to Georgian media reports.
On the afternoon of November 7, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs released for television broadcast several alleged audio and video recordings of conversations and meetings between opposition leaders and alleged Russian intelligence service representatives in Tbilisi. Opposition leaders featured on the tapes included Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili, Republican Party parliamentarian Levan Berdzenishvili, former State Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava, and Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, brother of Freedom Party leader Konstantin Gamsakhurdia.
The telephone conversations, starting in 2005, mostly touch on meeting times and information that is publicly available. One conversation with Berdzenishvili covers parliament's discussion of Georgia leaving the Commonwealth of Independent States; a second with Natelashvili covers a visit of Open Society Institute founder George Soros to Tbilisi. [EurasiaNet.org is financed by the Open Society Institute's Central Eurasia Project.]
Government supporters maintain that the conversations prove Moscow's interest in fostering instability in Georgia via the opposition protests. "Everyone has seen that the large part of our opposition is cooperating with our enemy," Givi Targamadze, a Member of Parliament and chairman of the parliamentary committee for defense and security, said at a press conference on November 7. "These traitors were using ordinary people [protesters] for their dirty goals."
However, members of the opposition and their supporters have denied any connection with Russia or the Russian intelligence services. "I am not going to comment on these allegations," Khaindrava told EurasiaNet. "When a government poisons its own people
Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Alexander Klimchuk and Sophia Mizante are freelance photographers based in Tbilisi.