09TBILISI618, GEORGIA: APRIL 9 PROTEST MACHINATIONS IN FULL SWING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI618 2009-03-26 14:15 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0735
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0618/01 0851415
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 261415Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1268
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000618 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: APRIL 9 PROTEST MACHINATIONS IN FULL SWING 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 585 
     B. TBILISI 559 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  Both the GOG and non-parliamentary 
opposition groups are formulating their plans to handle the 
upcoming April 9 protests at which the opposition will demand 
the resignation of President Saakashvili and holding new 
presidential elections.  The GOG intends to take a low key 
approach, and is apparently willing to let protesters stay as 
long as they desire as long as the demonstrators are peaceful 
and lawful.  The makeup of the non-parliamentary participants 
is still in flux as they debate how to organize, how to 
maintain control over the crowd, and how to stop violence. 
Both sides are concerned the other will provoke violence, yet 
both seem to be striking the right chord about the importance 
of maintaining a peaceful protest.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (C)  Comment:  Tension is growing among the public 
especially after the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) 
released video footage of Burjanadze supporters allegedly 
purchasing illegal arms.  Nonetheless, the GOG and the 
non-parliamentary opposition have been saying they are 
committed to lawful expression of views and both sides have a 
strong incentive to avoid violence.  The GOG, at least on the 
surface, appears to have learned some valuable lessons from 
its handling of the November 2007 protests and vows to take a 
hands off approach.  Most of the non-parliamentary opposition 
appear to be unflinching in their demands for Saakashvili to 
resign and determined to carry out what is shaping up to be a 
significant protest.  GOG officials for their part seem 
concerned about the potential for violence but largely 
unconcerned about the political significance of the protests. 
 It remains to early to judge what if any effect the arrest 
of Burjanadze supporters will have on the political dynamic, 
but as of yet, the news has not served to galvanize support 
for the demonstrators.  End Comment. 
 
GOG Confident - Prepared to Let the Protesters Stay as Long 
as Protests are Peaceful 
 
3.  (C)  From the highest levels of government on down, GOG 
officials say, both publicly and privately, they will take a 
hands off approach to the protests.  Minister of Interior 
Vano Merabishvili told the Ambassador that he intended to set 
up a monitoring mechanism so international observers could 
see from the inside how the MOIA was handling their response 
to the crowd.  He reiterated this point before a March 25 
gathering of the diplomatic corps at MOIA.  Speaker Bakradze 
told the Ambassador that the GOG intended to let the protests 
last as long as the protesters wanted if they were 
non-violent.  In fact, GOG leaders see no upside in 
dispersing the protesters before they are ready to leave. 
UNM MP David Darchiashvili (Chairman of Euro-Integration 
Committee) told Poloff that he expected the protests to be 
sizable but that most would lose interest after a day or two 
of non-violent protests.  Darchiashvili explained that the 
"Vake and Saburtalo" elites liked to complain and strongly 
dislike "Misha" but that they valued their privileged 
existence more.  Darchiashvili said this group, which he 
expected would make up a majority of the protesters had jobs, 
obligations and ultimately had no real interest in assuming 
the arduous task of actually engaging long term on political 
issues. 
 
4.  (C)  UNM MP Akaki Minashvili (Chairman of Foreign 
Relations Committee) and UNM MP Chiora Taktakishvili (Deputy 
Chairperson of the Legal Committee) agreed with 
Darchiashvili's statements.  Minashvili said he expected the 
QDarchiashvili's statements.  Minashvili said he expected the 
crowds to be around 25-30,000 but that was only a "guess". 
The apparent operating assumption of the GOG is that any 
large-scale protests will quickly fizzle out, and any 
reaction by the GOG would only serve to legitimize a movement 
that is fully capable of destroying itself if left to its own 
devices.  None of the MP's appeared concerned that the 
protesters would actually accomplish their aim of regime 
change nor did any other GOG interlocutors.  Nonetheless, the 
GOG has made clear it has an obligation to maintain the peace 
and that any violent action by the opposition such as 
storming a government building or otherwise would necessitate 
that law enforcement organs react accordingly to prevent 
criminal behavior.  The major underlying GOG concern is that 
with a large crowd, any "drunken idiot" could incite violence. 
 
Both Side Want to Avoid Violence 
 
5.  (C)  The one issue all agree on is the need to refrain 
from violence.  According to Former UN Ambassador, Irakli 
Alasania (Alliance), the non-parliamentary opposition has 
been discussing ways to deal with those among their ranks who 
would incite violence.  He stated that they had spoken about 
blocking the Parliament themselves if protesters tried to 
 
TBILISI 00000618  002 OF 003 
 
 
storm it among other things.  Alasania agreed that a larger 
crowd could be more difficu
lt to control.  Numerous 
opposition members have expressed their concerns tha the 
MOIA would plant provocateurs among the crowd to incite 
violence which would be blamed on the protesters.  The 
provocation would then serve as a pretext for a GOG crackdown 
on protesters.  GOG officials dismiss this scenario as 
absurd, pointing out that any violence whatsoever would have 
very negative consequences for the GOG and any such plot 
would soon be uncovered.  (Embassy Comment:  We see no 
incentive for the Government to incite violence.  If violence 
occurs, the side largely seen as initiating violence would 
face serious political backlash, domestic and 
internationally.  End Comment). 
 
Non-Parliamentary Opposition - Still Divided 
 
6.  (C)  The non-parliamentary opposition continues to be 
united by one issue, their desire to see Saakashvili resign. 
They continue to discuss tactics and goals; however, 
confusion rather than coherence continues to plague their 
efforts.  Alasania told DAS Bryza and the Ambassador March 25 
that he was attempting to convince the non-parliamentary 
opposition to limit the protest to one day.  He thought such 
a signal would show that the non-parliamentary opposition 
could organize large numbers of citizens peacefully and would 
serve as a strong political statement.  Alasania expressed 
doubt that all parties would agree to such a tactic. 
Continuing to be substantially more moderate in private than 
in public, Alasania agreed that Saakashvili would not resign, 
and the goal of continuos protests to achieve it was 
unrealistic and counterproductive for the country. 
Nevertheless, it remains unclear if Alasania can convince any 
other non-parliamentary leaders to follow his lead.  Alasania 
stated that he believed if the protests simply die out, the 
non-parliamentary leaders will have little political 
leverage.  Alasania worried that some of his colleagues had 
painted themselves into a rhetorical corner and expressed to 
both DAS Bryza and the Ambassador that he was ready, willing, 
and able to speak with GOG authorities about a way to avoid 
confrontation. 
 
Channels Are Open but Will They Be Used? 
 
7.  (C)  Speaker Bakradze explicitly told the Ambassador that 
the GOG was willing to speak with non-parliamentary 
opposition members, especially Alasania, regarding potential 
areas of compromise to avoid further conflict.  Among the 
areas the GOG was open to discussing was constitutional 
changes which would reduce the power of the President and 
increase that of Parliament.  Bakradze mentioned Givi 
Targamadze as a potential channel of communication between 
the UNM and the opposition.  Opposition MP Gia Tortladze has 
also been mentioned as a go-between.  Alasania told DAS Bryza 
and the Ambassador that he was under the impression that he 
would be able to speak briefly with Saakashvili when both 
were recently in Brussels for the German Marshall Fund 
conference, but it did not materialize.  At a minimum, the 
GOG and Alasania appear to be open to dialogue, but Alasania 
admitted that many in the non-parliamentary opposition have 
no interest in any sort of dialogue or compromise. 
 
8.  (C)  Deputy Minister Gia Baramidze told the Ambassador 
and Polchief March 26 that he was also trying to reachout to 
the opposition.  As the leader of the wing in UNM associated 
with former Prime Minister Zurab Zhavania, Baramidze said 
that he understood from participating in political protests 
over the past 20 years how quickly demonstrations could get 
Qover the past 20 years how quickly demonstrations could get 
out of control.  He had scheduled a meeting later in the day 
with Republican Party leader David Usupashvili, and said he 
would also attempt to meet Alasania.  He said that President 
Saakashvili supported his efforts.  (Embassy Note: 
Saakashvili called Baramidze twice during the meeting.  End 
Note.).  The Ambassador encouraged Baramidze to seek to open 
a dialogue and find a peaceful way out of the political 
impasse. 
 
Let's Negotiate - But What About and With Whom 
 
8.  (C)  While members of both sides may be open to dialogue, 
the obvious roadblock remains the opposition's call for the 
president's resignation and presidential elections. 
Currently, the non-parliamentary opposition has no other 
political demands.  Deputy Foreign Minister, Giga Bokeria 
told DAS Bryza and the Ambassador March 25 that dialogue 
would be "great" but pointedly asked why President 
Saakashvili should reach out to somebody (Alasania) who is 
calling for his unconstitutional removal.  Bokeria continued 
saying that Alasania refused to join the Election Law Working 
Group, and recently signed "some ridiculous document" in 
support of Burjanadze claiming the arrest of her supporters 
was political intimidation without having even seen the 
evidence.  Bokeria said that the GOG would be willing to 
 
TBILISI 00000618  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
speak to Alasania but that Alasania had a tendency to talk 
out of both sides of his mouth, and at every turn had 
rebuffed avenues of cooperation.  As Bokeria noted, Alasania 
cannot have it both ways, being a moderate in private and a 
radical in public.  Bokeria indicated that Alasania would 
have to signal something significant in public before anybody 
would take his willingness to negotiate at face value. 
 
9.  (C)  Bokeria wryly noted that after April 9, the 
non-parliamentary opposition would negotiate.  From the 
non-parliamentary opposition, only Alasania seems ready to 
consider an alternative way forward to avoid street 
confrontation, but even he expressed doubts that others would 
follow.  There have been few indications that the more 
radical members of the non-parliamentary opposition would be 
open to negotiations even if the protests fizzle out. 
Until the non-parliamentary opposition drops their 
"non-negotiable" demand for the president's resignation, any 
sort of compromise is hard to imagine.  Secondly, beyond 
their desire to oust the president, the non-parliamentary 
opposition's aims are widely divergent, serving to further 
complicate any potential for negotiations both before and 
after April 9. 
 
Guns, Burjanadze, and Armed Uprising 
 
10.  (C)  The arrest of nine of Nino Burjanadze's supporters 
on weapons charges has captivated an increasingly worried 
public.  Burjanadze initially told DAS Bryza and the 
Ambassador March 25 that the whole scenario was an MOIA 
orchestrated set-up.  Burjanadze questioned the authenticity 
of the videos, and said she was investigating what truly had 
occurred.  Later in the conversation she admitted that some 
of those arrested might actually have violated the law and 
sought to promote violence.  She disassociated herself from 
both.  While it appears a majority of the public has not 
formed a hardened opinion on the matter, the arrests have 
heightened a growing anxiety among the public that the 
protests have the potential to turn violent.  Opposition 
leaders have c
laimed the evidence was fabricated to deter 
individuals from protesting, while the GOG has maintained the 
arrests were not politically motivated.  Burjanadze said the 
arrests will not affect her decision to participate (or not) 
in April 9 protests. 
TEFFT

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