09TBILISI716, GEORGIA: PROTESTS CONTINUE DESPITE WANING INTEREST

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI716 2009-04-13 13:14 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8388
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0716/01 1031314
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 131314Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1366
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000716 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: PROTESTS CONTINUE DESPITE WANING INTEREST 
 
REF: TBILISI 0711 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  Protests waned April 10-12 despite the 
expiration of the non-parliamentary opposition demand that 
President Saakashvili resign within 24 hours.  On Friday, 
5,000-8,000 protesters gathered in front of Parliament and 
then broke into three groups to block traffic and continue 
rallies: first, in front of the Public Broadcaster, second, 
in Avlabari near the Presidential residence and third, a 
group remaining in front of Parliament.  Saturday followed 
the same pattern, although there were only 3,000-4,000 
protesters involved.  Nino Burjanadze called for a break for 
Orthodox Palm Sunday, but a group of 1,500-2,000 organized in 
front of Parliament and listened to speakers, including 
Burjanadze.  Meanwhile, a number of non-parliamentary 
opposition leaders called for meetings with EU conflicts 
representative Peter Semneby to mediate the impasse.  Semneby 
urged the non-parliamentary opposition to drop their demand 
that Saakashvili resign, but reported that the 
non-parliamentary opposition bickered amongst themselves, 
then simply repeated demands for Saakashvili's resignation. 
A minor scuffle occurred at roughly 23:00 Saturday evening in 
front of Parliament and police stopped buses, including one 
filled with embassy families, in order to limit access to the 
city.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (C)  Comment:  Protests are scheduled to continue 
indefinitely, although many expect that the opposition will 
stop for the Orthodox Easter holiday.  Disagreement among the 
non-parliamentary leadership is out in the open as to how to 
proceed, particularly as the public does not seem to support 
their goals.  Lacking a clear leader, Levan Gachechiladze is 
considered to hold the most sway among the group.  In spite 
of a diminished negotiating position, the non-parliamentary 
opposition remains wholly unwilling to engage in a serious 
dialogue.  The Georgian public so far has been extremely 
tolerant concerning the protests but signs are emerging that 
this tolerance could soon end.  A campaign of perpetual 
inconvenience does not appear to be a recipe for success and 
on the eve of Orthodox holy week, an already significantly 
discredited non-parliamentary opposition might find itself 
further marginalized.  With fewer protestors on the streets, 
the greatest danger may come from an effort by the 
non-parliamentary opposition to provoke the government into a 
reaction that will energize the public.  End Comment. 
 
Protests Proceed as Planned, Numbers Wane, Crowd Makeup Shifts 
 
3.  (C)  The number of protesters roughly dropped in half 
from Friday to Saturday and again to Sunday.  (Embassy Note: 
Our observers estimate that roughly 5,000-8,000 protested on 
Friday, 3,000-4,000, protested on Saturday and 1,500-2,000 
protested on Sunday.  End Note.).  While Monday might see 
more numbers in the street, the non-parliamentary opposition 
looks to have lost its best chance to fill Rustaveli avenue 
which would have been between Thursday April 9 and Sunday 
April 12.  Observers noted the crowd makeup had shifted 
significantly to being almost exclusively male (95%) and 
middle aged, interspersed with some younger males.  Observers 
estimate that roughly one quarter of all the crowds were mere 
onlookers rather than active protesters.  (Embassy Comment: 
On Saturday, the crowd at Parliament predominately was made 
up of "Burjanadze" supporters.  Many were holding Burjanadze 
Qup of "Burjanadze" supporters.  Many were holding Burjanadze 
flags and other pro-Burjanadze paraphernalia and had the 
distint look of a "rent-a-crowd".  End Comment.)  The crowd 
was largely apathetic, at one point getting roundly chastised 
by a speaker for not paying attention and listening to her. 
The crowd broke into three parts both on Friday, and Saturday 
to block a major traffic circle in Avlabari near the 
Presidential residence and the street in front of the Public 
Broadcaster as well as Rustaveli Avenue in front of the 
Parliament. 
 
4.  (C)  On Saturday, the group of 1,500 to 2,000 in front of 
the Public Broadcasters marched to Rustavi 2 TV and continued 
to protest there until they dispersed.  The protesters had a 
more difficult time on Saturday blocking the traffic circle 
in Avlabari due to traffic.  The Avlabari crowd of roughly 
300 protesters proceeded to the presidential residence before 
breaking up and going home.  Protests continued on Sunday in 
front of Parliament, despite calls on Saturday for a day of 
respite to honor Orthodox Palm Sunday.  Embassy Observers 
said that many in the crowd were simply passing by rather 
than actively engaged in the protest.  The makeup of the 
Sunday crowd was also almost exclusively male and 
middle-aged.  Protests are scheduled to proceed uninterrupted 
until Saakashvili resigns. 
 
Incidents Reported - Details Murky 
 
TBILISI 00000716  002 OF 003 
 
 
 
5.  (C)  A strange incident occurred on Saturday ni
ght at 
2300 when a small group of maintenance workers approached the 
lingering crowd to clean up the substantial mess left by 
protesters, as requested by opposition leaders.  A 
confrontation broke out with protesters who claimed the 
maintenance workers were undercover Ministry of Internal 
Affairs (MOIA) agents.  The MOIA spokeswoman later said the 
municipal street cleaners were verbally abused and attacked. 
In the ensuing confusion, a computer was stolen and part of 
the makeshift communications tent was damaged.  Deputy 
Minister of Interior, Eka Zguladze immediately informed the 
Ambassador of the incident and the MOIA has provided video 
footage of the incident from security cameras outside of 
Parliament (although it is difficult to discern what 
happened).  Zguladze said the MOIA will investigate the theft 
of a computer.  Zguladze said that Burjanadze herself was 
screaming at her (Zguladze) about how smelly and dirty the 
site had become.  According to Peter Semneby, who was present 
when the crew arrived, there was some jostling between 
Burjanadze supporters and the crew, but no major incident. 
Burjanadze was present at the moment of the incident. 
(Embassy Note:  Burjanadze's presence was unusual because she 
has generally addressed the crowd from the stage, then left 
the protests before they finished at 9pm.  End Note.). 
Apparently, Burjanadze launched another complaint with the 
MOIA, and was irate that police were not dispatched to the 
scene.  Zguladze told the Ambassador that the MOIA faced a no 
win situation, you send the police and you are accused of 
provocation, you do not send the police and you are accused 
of negligent indifference. 
 
6.  (C)  In a separate incident, on Saturday April 11, a 
busload of Embassy employees coming back to Tbilisi from 
sightseeing trip to Gori was stopped twice, albeit briefly, 
by patrol police before being allowed to continue.  An EU 
diplomat reported a similar incident south of Tbilisi on 
Friday.  Earlier on Friday, OSCE and EUMM monitors told Post 
that they had seen no evidence of vehicles being stopped or 
denied access to Tbilisi.  Non-parliamentary opposition 
members have claimed a suppression campaign exists to prevent 
people from outside Tbilisi's participation in the protests, 
but have been unable to provide any detailed information. 
The Ambassador immediately raised the issue with Zguladze and 
told her these actions threaten to undermine the very good 
work the police had done to this point.  The Ambassador 
received a response from Zguladze that Minister of the 
Interior, Vano Merabishvili went through the roof when he 
heard of the traffic stops.  Post will continue to closely 
monitor and follow up on any reports of intimidation or 
restrictions of freedom of movement.  On the other hand, 
several sources told Poloff that non-parliamentary opposition 
members are offering 20 Lari (roughly USD 13), free lunch, 
and transportation to any person willing to come to Tbilisi 
and join the protests. 
 
Semneby Spends His Easter in Tbilisi 
 
7.  (C)  At the request of some non-parliamentary opposition 
members, EU conflicts representative Peter Semneby spent the 
weekend trying to facilitate dialogue between the protest 
leaders and the government.  Semneby met with Irakli Alasania 
(Alliance for Georgia), Levan Gachechiladze, Eka Beselia 
(United Georgia - Okruashvili's party), and Salome 
Zourabichvili (Georgia's Way) on the evening of Friday, April 
QZourabichvili (Georgia's Way) on the evening of Friday, April 
10.  Semneby found them to be subdued and felt that they 
recognized that they needed a way out of their self-inflicted 
predicament.  He rejected their request for EU mediation and 
said the EU was willing to offer their good offices (and 
attendance at meetings) provided: both the government and the 
opposition agreed to the EU's involvement; the 
non-parliamentary opposition request that the GoG be involved 
in talks; and that the non-parliamentary opposition publicly 
state how and when the protest rallies would stop.  Those 
present agreed to consider the proposal and respond to 
Semneby April 11.  Semneby told the group that while 
gathering in front of Parliament and blocking Rustaveli 
avenue was a consequence of free assembly, setting up roving 
roadblocks around town and tying up traffic on major arteries 
was an escalation that should be avoided. 
 
8.  (C)  On April 11 around midnight, Semneby alerted the 
Ambassador that the non-parliamentary opposition responded 
that they cold not agree to his proposal and countered that 
they wanted to meet personally with Saakashvili to demand his 
resignation.  Semneby said he could not play a role in such a 
proposal.  Semneby was frustrated by the non-parliamentary 
antics, exacerbated by the fact they waited until late 
Saturday evening to get back to him with simply another 
ultimatum for Saakashvili.  Nevertheless, Semneby met 
privately with Alasania on April 12 who explained to him that 
 
TBILISI 00000716  003 OF 003 
 
 
the non-parliamentary opposition was deeply divided and could 
only agree that they want to meet Saakashvili personally to 
demand his resignation.  Semneby told Alasania that such an 
approach lacked seriousness.  It was not dialogue.  Semneby 
left for Brussels and will be in Ankara on April 14.  He told 
Alasania that he would be open to returning but only on the 
condition that the non-parliamentary opposition "get its act 
together". 
 
These Guys Just Don't Learn 
 
9.  (C)  Highly respected Georgia Foundation for Strategic 
and International Studies President, Ambassador Alex Rondeli 
told us on April 10 that the non-parliamentary opposition had 
learned nothing since November 2007.  Rondeli contrasted them 
with the GoG who he believed had learned some valuable 
lessons and were handling the protests well, so far. 
Rondeli, who did not absolve the GoG of past wrongdoing and 
current mistakes, said that the non-parliamentary opposition 
has failed to provide credible or constructive alternatives 
to the current government.  Rondeli said that resorting to 
ultimatums and street protests was a course of action 
designed to fail.  Surprisingly, even on Maestro TV 
(considered strongly pro-opposition in its editorial policy), 
on a Saturday night call-in show was getting calls breaking 
about 70 percent to 30 percent in favor of ending the 
protests.  Callers were decidedly not pleased with 
Saakashvili or his administration, but the overriding theme 
was that Georgians were tired of the protests.  Caller after 
caller questioned the tactics, motivations, and ability of 
the non-parliamentary opposition to affect meaningful change. 
 (Embassy Comment:  Maestro is seen almost exclusively in the 
Tbilisi area.  Our FSN newswatcher was surprised by the 
negative response for the non-parliamentary opposition 
considering the average Maestro viewer is anti-GoG from 
Tbilisi.  End Comment.). 
TEFFT

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