07TBILISI2729, GAP BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND PROTESTERS WIDENS AS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI2729 2007-11-05 12:46 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1310
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #2729/01 3091246
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051246Z NOV 07  ZDK DUE TO MANY SVC'S
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8076
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 002729 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR DAS BRYZA AND EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2017 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM GG
SUBJECT: GAP BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND PROTESTERS WIDENS AS 
DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE 
 
REF: TBILISI 2719 
 
TBILISI 00002729  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary: Street demonstrations against the Saakashvili 
government continue in Tbilisi for the fourth day on November 
5, following their start on November 2 (reftel). 
Conservative estimates placed the crowd at up to 70,000 
people on Rustaveli avenue at the peak on November 2. 
Georgian oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili attended the first 
day of the protest and addressed the crowd, but then left 
Georgia and has not made further statements.  On November 2, 
Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze met with protest 
leaders but no real progress was achieved.  The opposition 
leaders began calling for President Saakashvili's resignation 
on November 3.  Some opposition leaders met with Burjanadze's 
staff and MP Giga Bokeria on November 3, but again without 
results.  On Sunday, November 4, Salome Zourabichvili, one of 
the opposition leaders, met with the Ambassador to raise 
concern about the growing strength of more radical elements 
in the opposition and to convince the Ambassador to urge 
dialogue and compromise on President Saakashvili.  As the 
protests continued over the weekend, many protesters from 
outside Tbilisi left town.  The crowd in front of the 
Parliament grew smaller and more homogenous, being mostly men 
between 40 and 60 years old.  On November 4, President 
Saakashvili released a taped interview in which he mentioned 
Georgia's recent successes, acknowledged problems with 
unemployment and inflation, but criticized the opposition as 
being a manipulated by "black forces" involved in a "factory 
of lies."  He defended his choice of a Fall date for 
elections by referring to potential Russian interference if 
they are held at the same time as Russian elections in Spring 
2008.  From our soundings, his message appears to have failed 
to resonate with the public.  We sense rising disappointment 
with both the President and the opposition.  Both sides 
appear to be unready to make concessions that will make them 
appear weak.  End Summary. 
 
------------------------------ 
Mass Protests Friday Taper Off 
on Saturday and Sunday 
------------------------------ 
 
2. (U) As they approached Tbilisi, opposition caravans 
reportedly encountered roadblocks and spikes strewn in their 
paths.  The anti-government television channel Imedi showed 
them displaying the specially clumped nails that were sure to 
damage tires.  The Embassy has heard other stories about bus 
drivers being deprived of their licenses by police. 
Nevertheless, large numbers of protesters, especially from 
Western Georgia, were successful in reaching Tbilisi by the 
opening of the demonstration on Friday afternoon. 
 
3.  (SBU) As had been anticipated since September 28, the 
demonstration called by the United Council of the Opposition, 
which includes all the opposition parties except the New 
Rightists and the Industrialists, began on November 2.  The 
crowd was conservatively estimated at between 50,000 to 
70,000 demonstrators.  The opposition claimed 100,000 people, 
while the government officially admitted perhaps 35,000 
protesters.  The protests were all but entirely peaceful. 
The police presence was less visible than during the 
September 28 protest, when twelve buses of anti-riot police 
were seen in the vicinity of the protests.  Emboffs witnessed 
one heated confrontation with police that occurred when 
protesters tried to enter a post office next door to 
Parliament and take down a banner showing the opposition as 
puppets of Badri Patarkatsishvili.  This situation quickly 
resolved itself and the banner remained in place but was 
generally ignored. 
 
4. (SBU) Although he had originally intended to keep his 
distance, oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili attended the 
protest and twice briefly addressed the crowd.  His message 
was simple, "I am with you."  He was greeted with applause. 
Fliers were handed out in advance, showing his picture and 
repeating his message of the country's need for 
representative government and unity.  Patarkatsishvili left 
the country on November 3 and has not been heard from as the 
protests have continued. 
 
5.  (U) On the evening of November 2, after repeated calls 
from the opposition leadership for the government to meet and 
take their demands seriously, the opposition and Burjanadze's 
staff agreed to a meeting.  The leaders suggested the 
demonstrators could go home while the meeting took place and 
the crowd significantly diminished from that point.  The 
Speaker refused to offer a change in the date of the 
elections as demanded by the opposition.  Protesters remained 
 
TBILISI 00002729  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
on the streets for the rest of the night, some of them 
drinking wine and showing high spirits.  The following day it 
was reported that two young supporters of the opposition were 
beaten by masked men
while they were bringing food to the 
demonstrators.  No other violence was reported. 
 
6. (U) On November 3, disappointed by the government's lack 
of response, the opposition added a call for Saakashvili to 
resign to their list of formal demands.  During the day, 
about 3000 demonstrators were at the Parliament, becoming 
somewhat more numerous in the evening.  Imedi continuously 
televised the proceedings and their cameras remained focused 
on the podium and a tightly packed area in front of the dais, 
maintaining the impression of massive crowds.  The leaders' 
rhetoric progressively became more strident.  The People's 
Party's corpulent leader, Koba Davitashvili, mentioned his 
love for shashlik barbecue and said he and the protesters 
would "eat the government" like his favorite barbecue.  Levan 
Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party compared Saakashvili 
to Romania's Ceausescu and warned he would end up like 
Ceausescu or Milosevic if he does not resign. 
 
7. (C) The opposition again met with National Movement MPs on 
November 3.  Reportedly, Presidential confidant and member of 
Parliament Giga Bokeria was visibly irritated with the 
opposition's treatment of Burjanadze.  He said that the 
opposition demanded to speak with Saakashvili himself and 
largely refused to negotiate with Burjanadze. 
 
---------------------------------------- 
Moderates Fear Losing Ground to Radicals 
---------------------------------------- 
 
8. (C) On Sunday, November 4, Salome Zourabichvili, leader of 
the party "Georgia's Way" and a relatively moderate voice 
among the opposition, called on the Ambassador.  She insisted 
that her followers do not want a revolution, they want 
change, and she is well aware that the Russians are delighted 
by the disarray in Tbilisi.  She expressed concern that more 
radical elements, such as Labor Party supporters of firebrand 
Shalva Natelashvili, are gaining strength at her expense, and 
Saakashvili is not providing material to strengthen the 
moderates against them.  She considers Saakashvili too 
beholden to intransigent advisors like Bokeria, who portrays 
the opposition to Saakashvili as unyielding on their side. 
Zourabichvili said international unwillingness to back 
opposition demands was also encouraging Saakashvili to stand 
firm.  She sought the Ambassador's assistance to draw a 
response from Saakashvili that would begin to defuse the 
situation.  The Ambassador told Zourabichvili that the USG 
cannot take a position on the date of elections, but has 
advocated changes to make the electoral system more fair and 
will continue to do so.  Furthermore, he said, we are 
encouraging Saakashvili to enter into dialogue with the 
opposition, but as Assistant Secretary Fried had said 
publicly, we are not mediating the crisis. 
 
----------------------------------- 
Saakashvili Speech Disappoints Many 
----------------------------------- 
 
9. (U) The protests continued for a third day on November 4, 
with up to 10,000 people in front of Parliament at its peak. 
Late in the day, it was announced that President Saakashvili 
would appear on television at ten o'clock p.m.  His 
appearance was in the form of an interview recorded earlier 
in the day.  Saakashvili defended the government's 
achievements since the Rose Revolution, including new 
infrastructure, reliable energy supplies and stronger defense 
capabilities.  He admitted problems like continued, 
widespread unemployment and inflation, but pointed to new 
factories being opened and blamed inflation on monopolies' 
control over imports.  He attributed the opposition's success 
so far to support from "dark forces" and a "factory of lies" 
similar to what attacked Boris Yeltsin in Russia in the 
1990's.  He accused them of attempting to repeat the Rose 
Revolution, but this time without any talent.  He warned that 
the opposition protests are creating the impression of a 
weakening Georgia.  Turning to the opposition's specific 
demands, he said that the date for elections was changed to 
prevent Russian politicians from stirring up trouble in 
Georgia for the benefit of their own chances in elections to 
be held in late 2007 and early 2008.  He also said concern 
about the possible recognition of Abkhazia by Russia in the 
aftermath of Kosovo independence influenced the decision. 
Despite the opposition's demands, he refused to consider 
changing the Georgian election date. 
 
10.  (C) Saakashvili's performance disappointed many 
Georgians with whom we have talked, in that he did not seem 
 
TBILISI 00002729  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
to take the opposition's challenge head on and address the 
real concern many citizens feel about the economic and social 
situation in the country.  Predictably, opposition leaders 
were dismissive.  Berdzenishvili called the interview "utter 
nonsense" and more moderate leaders, like Zourabichvili, 
considered that he is out of touch with the people.  The 
opposition announced plans on Monday to picket administrative 
buildings in order to ratchet up the pressure on the 
government. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
11. (C) The size of the protests reflects what is a real 
concern among many Georgians about an economy that is growing 
but is not yet producing jobs, especially for older workers 
who may have been doing relatively well in Soviet days before 
the collapse of the economy in the early 1990's.  The 
Saakashvili government's apparent belief in its own 
invincibility has also resulted in a widespread impression 
that it is arrogant and unwilling to listen to the working 
man's social and economic concerns.  The protests on Friday 
were swelled with a large number of people from the regions. 
By Saturday and Sunday, the few thousand protesters remaining 
on the streets were by and large male, from 40-60 years old, 
and apparently workers or casually self-employed people. 
Only a smattering of women, young people or intelligentsia 
were observable, by contrast to the 2003 Rose Revolution 
which brought Georgians from every walk of life to the 
street.  Many of the demonstrators are reportedly supporters 
of the leftist Shalva Natelashvili and his Labor Party.  Even 
as we hear disappointment with the government's efforts to 
address the key economic and social concerns, we also hear 
rising criticism of the opposition for its unrealistic 
demands and shrill, demagogic rhetoric. 
TEFFT

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