Ensuring Saakashvili’s release goal of public protests in Georgia, “irrespective of where police line is broken” - former Interior Minister

Georgia’s former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili says UNM’s “key goal” is former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s release. Photo: Vano Merabishvili’s Facebook 

Agenda.ge, 10 Mar 2023 - 16:08, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia’s former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili on Wednesday claimed ensuring the release of the imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili was one of the goals of the public protests held this week in Tbilisi over the controversial bill on transparency of foreign influence.

Speaking with Yevgeny Kiselyov, a Ukrainian-based Russian journalist, the former United National Movement Minister spoke as the protests were ongoing - and before the Georgian authorities withdrew the bill on Thursday - and made a reference to Saakashvili’s ongoing treatment in detention at a civilian clinic in Tbilisi.

He told the interview - released on YouTube on Wednesday - that “no matter where the police line is broken [during protests] - whether it is outside the Parliament or outside the clinic - any such breakthrough means the release of Saakashvili”.

Merabishvili, one of the most influential figures of Saakashvili’s UNM Government who left prison in 2020 after serving almost seven years for several offences, also said the former President’s release would mean an “end” for the current Georgian Dream Government.

Speaking before the bill’s recall, he also claimed the current authorities would act “like Russian President Vladimir Putin” and make “no concessions” over the controversial legislative initiative that saw a backlash from the domestic opposition, civil sector and Georgia’s foreign partners. 

The ruling party has accused the "radical opposition" of triggering violence during protests. Photo: 1TV.

The ruling party announced the withdrawal of the bill the following day, citing necessity of “tranquillity” in the country and Georgia’s European integration goals as reasons behind the move.

Claiming the UNM was in the “vanguard” of the latest protests due to its ability to “assemble crowds”, Merabishvili said it was the only party able to ensure the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration and “friendly ties” with Ukraine, amid the latter’s ongoing conflict with Russia. 

A group of UNM members last year accused Merabishvili of “shadowy interference” in UNM along with the former Defence Minister David Kezerashvili, and also alleged he was working to facilitate the election of Levan Khabeishvili as the party’s new Chair in place of Nika Melia. Khabeishvili won the intra-party elections in January. 

In its comments on the withdrawal of the bill, which involved registration of non-commercial legal entities and media outlets in the country as “agents of foreign influence” if they derive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad, the ruling party said on Thursday a “machine of lies” had managed to “present the bill in a negative light and mislead a certain part of the public” by calling the legal initiative a “Russian law”.

The party also accused “radical domestic forces” of involving young demonstrators in protests against the bill this week in “illegal activities” that included protesters throwing Molotov cocktails, stones, wooden poles and other objects in the direction of law enforcers outside the Parliament and damaging state facilities, nearby shops and police vehicles. 

The country’s Interior Ministry on Friday said its employees had arrested 133 individuals on Tuesday and Wednesday for “violation of public order [and] rule of law” and noted 58 law enforcement officers had received “various injuries” while ensuring safety during the rallies in central Tbilisi.