Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zghuladze has announced that opposition protestors calling for the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili will be allowed to demonstrate "as long as they wish."
"We see ourselves as a working democracy and we're going to behave like one," Zghuladze told foreign reporters during an April 8 briefing.
Protestors will gather tomorrow at 2pm in front of parliament in downtown Tbilisi. Protest organizers have indicated that the demonstration could possibly disperse into different locations on April 10. Participating opposition leaders state that they plan to protest until Saakashvili resigns.
Although protesters' demonstration permit expires on April 16, "we'll not be pushy about things like that," Zghuladze said. Demonstrations can continue "wherever they want," as long as they remain "peaceful."
"The government of Georgia will not seek to suppress turnout or to intimidate any of the demonstrators," she continued, adding that police have been given "very clear instructions that they must do nothing that can be perceived as an intimidation."
Three thousand uniformed police officers will be on hand in Tbilisi throughout the day. Police in cars will be stationed around the demonstration itself.
Underlining the government objective to protect civilian safety and state buildings, Zghuladze confirmed that the Interior Ministry and opposition will be sharing information about reported security incidents through "informal and formal channels." She, however, declined to elaborate, citing opposition reluctance.
The ministry is "quite confident that we're on the same line here with the opposition" about the non-use of violence, Zghuladze said.
Embassy representatives will be on hand in an Interior Ministry "operations center" to observe how police respond to events, she added.
Zhguladze stressed that the Georgian police force has "come a long way" since the November 7, 2007, protest crackdown, pointing to the conduct of peaceful election protests in 2008 as the proof. "We will not disperse the public by force at any time. They can take as long as they wish . . . even if they're blocking the streets, even if it's . . . 100,000 people."