09TBILISI711, GEORGIA: PROTESTS PEACEFUL, OPPOSITION TURNOUT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI711 2009-04-10 14:42 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO5502
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0711/01 1001442
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 101442Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1357
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000711 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: PROTESTS PEACEFUL, OPPOSITION TURNOUT 
LESS THAN HOPED 
 
REF: TBILISI 693 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (SBU)  Summary:  The much anticipated April 9 protests 
proceeded peacefully, lasting about 6 hours from 2pm to 8pm. 
Non-parliamentary opposition leaders gave President 
Saakashvili twenty-four hours to resign or they will engage 
in further actions.  The bulk of the protest took place in 
front of Parliament although a sizable portion broke away at 
4:30pm to protest in front of the Public Broadcaster.  The 
protests were covered extensively by the local media. 
Organizers asked the crowd to return on April 10 at 3pm and 
only a small group of protesters remained overnight in front 
of Parliament.  There was no visible police presence except 
for a small group of guards near Parliament.  Estimates vary 
about the crowd size.  MOIA estimated the crowd at roughly 
25,000; while observers affiliated with the Caucasus Research 
Center put the estimate at 50,000 at its peak.  Embassy 
Observers believe the crowd ranged from 30,000 to 40,000. 
There was also a small protest of about a 1,000 in Batumi. 
On April 10, President Saakashvili publicly thanked the 
protesters for demonstrating peacefully and responsibly, said 
he understood why people were frustrated, and said the GoG 
was still willing to engage in dialogue.  Approximately 
5,000-10,000 protesters turned up for the April 10 follow-up 
rally.  The non-parliamentary opposition leaders pledged to 
engage in civil disobedience by picketing and blocking roads 
until Saakashvili resigns.  They plan on protesting at the 
Presidential Palace, the Public Broadcaster, and Parliament 
everyday from 3pm until 9pm.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (C)  Comment:  The non-parliamentary opposition organized 
a sizable crowd but nowhere near the 100,000-200,000 they 
predicted.  Despite the modest turnout, the non-parliamentary 
opposition did not deviate from its repeated demand for 
Saakashvili's resignation.  Saakashvili's April 10 statement 
appears to us to capture the general sense of the public who 
may be dissatisfied with current economic and political 
conditions, but who are tired of the tactics of protests and 
ultimatums.  We have heard from many that while they are 
unhappy with the government, they are also unhappy with the 
opposition.  The decision to picket and block traffic could 
increase tensions and could be an attempt to force some sort 
of confrontation with the police.  We are continuing to urge 
all sides to show restraint and encourage dialogue, and will 
observe the protests closely.  End Comment. 
 
Protests Start -  Crowd Subdued 
 
3.  (C)  The long-awaited April 9 protest started at 2pm 
local time.  Channel 1, Imedi, and Rustavi showed some live 
coverage of the rallies, while Maestro and Kavkasia showed 
the rallies in their entirety.  (Embassy Note:  Channel 1, 
Imedi, and Rustavi all provided live coverage during their 
news updates which were extended to allow for more coverage 
but did not have non-stop coverage.  Maestro and Kavkasia 
provided live non-stop coverage until roughly 7 or 8pm.  End 
Note.).  Initial estimates of the crowd varied from 50,000 
(based on an estimate by the Caucasus Research Center) to 
25,000 by the MOIA (based on aerial photos) to 30-40,000 
(based on Embassy Observer estimates).  (Embassy Note:  The 
MOIA estimate was arrived at in part with Austrian and 
Hungarian police experts and other international law 
enforcement observers who actually thought the MOIA numbers 
were too high.  End Note.).  The consensus among the 
observers was that 2 pm represented the high-water mark and 
Qobservers was that 2 pm represented the high-water mark and 
the crowd started to slowly dissipate throughout the day. 
Various speakers stood on a stage set up in front of 
Parliament and gave speeches.  Apart from an occasional 
applause line, the crowd was very subdued. 
 
4.  (C)  The crowd was generally middle aged with few people 
prepared for a continuous protest (no sleeping bags or warm 
clothes).  We estimate that as much as half the crowd had 
little interest in the protest per se but were simply on 
Rustaveli Avenue to see the event.  Embassy observers saw 
people chatting with friends, milling around, and only about 
half the crowd faced the speakers at any given time.  The 
opposition did not have music or any other means of 
entertaining the crowd between speeches and the sound system 
they used worked poorly.  The GoG followed through on its 
promise to have minimal police presence, and thus far, 
appears to have learned valuable lessons from the November 
2007 protests.  All sides deserve credit for keeping the 
rally peaceful. 
 
5.  (C)  The public defender's office, priests, 
self-identified party members, and NGO volunteers all served 
as observers to help enure the rally remained peaceful. 
Embassy observers noticed a visible police presence only near 
Parliament which consisted of a few officers, who did not 
 
TBILISI 00000711  002 OF 003 
 
 
engage with protesters.  The speeches varied from somewhat 
moderate to hysterical, th
ough crowd reaction remained 
largely apathetic regardless of the speaker addressing the 
crowd.  Labor Party Leader, Shalva Natelashvili got the best 
response.  Notably, Nino Burjanadze was loudly booed when she 
spoke.  She indicated that she understood the crowd's 
frustration, but asked them to understand her move from 
government to opposition was "for the people."  Burjanadze 
later claimed those who whistled and booed were GoG plants. 
By 4 pm both speakers and some among the crowd were urging 
protesters to remain (Embassy Note:  Post estimated the crowd 
at roughly 20-25,000 at this point.  End Note.). 
 
The Protests Move 
 
6.  (C)  At roughly 4:30pm, a group of 5,000-10,000 led by 
Levan Gachechiladze and Goga Khaindrava left the Parliament 
and headed to the Public Broadcaster's building in what 
seemed to be a semi-spontaneous idea rather than a 
pre-planned maneuver.  Only about half of the original group 
made it to the Public Broadcaster's office which is over a 
mile walk away.  Goga Khaindrava took the microphone and said 
that the protesters would storm the building unless the 
Public Broadcaster let them in and acceded to their 
"demands".  Other speakers spoke of a round the clock 
picketing action.  A brief scuffle appeared to break out 
between protesters and a security guard.  However, the Public 
Broadcaster agreed to let three representatives in to conduct 
negotiations.  According to the MOIA, Levan Gachicheladze, 
Koba Davitashvili (Party of the People), and Zviad Dzidziguri 
(Conservative Party) were allowed to enter the building to 
negotiate.  Gachechiladze's reported demand was that that 
Channel 1 provide live (though intermittent) coverage of the 
protests which the Public Broadcaster agreed to do.  (Embassy 
Note:  This was a bizarre request considering that the Public 
Broadcaster had already been providing what Gachechiladze 
demanded.  Gachechiladze then demanded 6 minutes of live 
airtime every day for himself personally, a demand which was 
rejected.  End Note.).  They also reportedly requested that 
Channel 1 show the Patriarch's speech on April 9 in its 
entirety and issue invitations for opposition leaders to 
appear on public talk shows.  Once the "demands" were met, 
Gachechiladze returned to the street and addressed the crowd 
which had now dwindled to roughly 2,000 people. 
Subsequently, Khaindrava claimed that 3,000 special forces 
troops were inside the building and ready to attack the 
crowd.  Khaindrava stated that they would move back to 
Parliament to avoid bloodshed.  The crowds reaction was 
largely one of confused looks and silence.  After the 
announcement, about 500-1,000 of the protesters walked back 
and joined the group in front of Parliament at roughly 
6:30pm.  By this time, the crowd had dwindled significantly 
and Embassy observers could make their way into the crowd, 
directly in front of the stage. 
 
Let's Call it a Day - And Back on April 10 
 
7.  (C)  Speakers continued to implore protesters to stay or 
if they left, to come back with two additional people.  As of 
7pm the crowd had dwindled to roughly 5,000 protesters.  At 
that time, Levan Gachechiladze asked for protesters to return 
at 10am on April 10.  After some brief discussion with other 
leaders, he revised the time to 3pm.  In a press conference, 
Irakli Alasania claimed that he conservatively estimated 
125,000 people were at the rally (Embassy Note:  This claim 
does not withstand even minimal scrutiny.  End Note.). 
Alasania said that if Saakashvili did not resign, the 
QAlasania said that if Saakashvili did not resign, the 
non-parliamentary opposition would announce a further action 
plan.  Non-parliamentary leaders did not provide any clarity 
into further actions until the April 10 rally where they said 
they would engage in "civil disobedience".  Nino Burjanadze 
claimed that the protests had "really scared the 
authorities".  (Embassy Comment:  Post is unsure if certain 
opposition members are putting a positive spin on events or 
actually believe their own rhetoric.  End Comment).  A few 
supporters stayed overnight in front of Parliament, singing, 
dancing and drinking.  A number appeared on TV news programs 
to be intoxicated (including some lesser "leaders") and 
dancing late into the night. 
 
8.  (C)  About 5,000-10,000 protesters returned to Parliament 
on April 10 at 3 pm and listened to another round of speeches 
made by opposition leaders.  The new plan outlined asked 
protesters to return to the Parliament each day at 3 pm.  At 
that time, orders would be given and protesters would move to 
designated locations (i.e. the President's office in Avlabari 
and the Public Broadcaster's office) to engage in unspecified 
"acts of civil disobedience," before returning to Parliament 
at 9 pm.  It is unclear as to how many protesters will follow 
these instructions and whether they can continue this kind of 
activity over the weekend and into orthodox holy week. 
 
 
TBILISI 00000711  003 OF 003 
 
 
GoG Remains Calm - Continues to Offer Dialogue 
 
9.  (C)  In spite of claims by the non-parliamentary 
opposition, GoG contacts tell us that they intend to let the 
protests continue if they remain non-violent.  Security 
Council Chief Eka Tkeshalashvili told the Ambassador that 
Georgian law nforcement is under strict orders to avoid 
confrontation.  The Ambassador urged her to maintain maximum 
restraint.  Tkeshalashvili reassured the Ambassador that the 
GoG had no intentions of using force to disperse the 
protests, but agreed that the coming days might be more 
dangerous as the crowd dwindles and becomes more desperate. 
In this backdrop, President Saakashvili called for dialogue 
saying "yesterday was a very important for our democracy, one 
part of our society has expressed its will."  Saakashvili 
went on to express his gratitude to the protesters for 
remaining peaceful and indicated that he understood why some 
were upset with him.  Saakashvili then called on all sides to 
work together to solve Georgia's problems. 
TEFFT

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