Also posted on Global Voices
More than dozen veterans of Georgia’s wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia began a hunger strike on December 27 demanding that the government address their social problems and restore their medical discounts. Camping out in front of a monument to fallen soldiers on Tbilisi’s Heroes Square, the ex-soldiers said that they would anyway leave on 6 January, the date of the Georgian Orthodox Christmas Eve.
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US Ambassador expresses his concern over Heroes' Square events
The US Ambassador to Georgia has said the police should not have used force against the protestors on 3 January when they violently broke up a peaceful and lawful protest by veterans of Georgia's wars of the 1990s' in Tbilisi's central Heroes' Square.
John Bass has proved to be rather more robust in his commentary on Georgian matters than his predecessor, John Tefft, but his words today were unusually strong - essentially saying the police's behaviour, which has been strongly defended by the Georgian government, was incompatible with any Georgian claim to be a democracy:
I want to respond to the events that took place on the heroes’ square that I’ve been observing for 2-3 days. I’m concerned that police used force against the protesters. Force must not be used against protesters. This must not be taking place in a democratic country. I’m glad Georgia’s public Defender released a statement and adequately assessed the happening. I hope it will be investigated and the present video material will be given a special attention
The video evidence (was attached - but the video has now been deleted from YouTube) appears to show leather jacketed young men - who we must assume are interior ministry employees - roughly handling and punching older men. Uniformed patrol policemen also handle them roughly but there is less evidence that they threw punches. The veterans were granted permission to hold their protest and had reportedly complied with requests to remove tents and bedding from the war memorial itself.
The veterans say they were attacked by the police shortly after President Saakashvili drove past the protest and the allegation is that the president personally ordered the unlawful assault.
Update: As the accuracy of IPN's report of the ambassador's statement has been questioned in the comments (below) we are pleased to note that the US embassy has issued it'sown statement. They quote the ambassador as saying:
I am disturbed by the reports of violence committed by the police against protesters. That type of violence does not have a place in democratic societies. I was pleased to see the Public Defenders' statement on those specific incidents and his concerns about the extent to which these actions were inconsistent with Georgian law. We hope for and expect there will be a full investigation of these allegations, including a close examination of what appears to be some good video evidence of potential police violence.
They further quote him as stating:
"All of our societies have places that are hallowed ground and there needs to be appropriate respect for that place and yet at the same time respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, so that people have a legitimate right to protest and express opinions in appropriate places.
"In the United States, the freedom of assembly does not mean anyone can assemble anytime, anywhere and certainly within the scope of national monuments, respecting our war dead, people who sacrificed for our countries. We have restrictions on who can protest and where; those are clearly spelled out and I think part of the challenge here may be that it was not well understood and well publicized for all citizens of Georgia to understand necessarily what the rules were regarding the memorial at Heroes' Square."
Other content on the site that is relevant
Otar Gvenetadze reportedly sacked - but will he be prosecuted?
NGOs call for condemnation of state violence against protestors
How the Saakashvili regime treats its veterans
Video: Saakashvili's thug punches woman in the face
Storm over police attack on veterans protest continues to build