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Tbilisi Subway Workers Strike For Second Day Amid Wave Of Protests


Crammed buses with signs reading "FREE of charge" continue to ferry commuters throughout Tbilisi on June 5.

TBILISI -- Tbilisi subway workers demanding higher wages have continued their strike for a second day, as the leader of the antigovernment protest movement in the Georgian capital vowed determination to fight against the South Caucasus country's ruling elite.

Crammed buses with signs reading "FREE of charge" continued to ferry commuters throughout Tbilisi on June 5, after the subway workers refused the mayor's offer to increase salaries beginning next year.

They are calling for a 45 percent pay increase, but Tbilisi authorities say there aren't sufficient funds to meet their demands.

Outside Isani subway station, buses arrived too full to allow for more than a handful of people to squeeze on. Many commuters gave up trying and flagged down taxis.

Katya, a university student, told RFE/RL she had tried to get onto three busses.

"It's impossible.... Now I'm already late for my classes," she said.

Meanwhile, protesters demanding the government's resignation geared up for a sixth day of demonstrations in Tbilisi, after the protest leader said his June 4 meeting with Georgia's prime minister didn't alter his determination to fight against what the protesters see as a corrupt ruling elite.

"I have absolutely the same position -- the system should be destroyed," Zaza Saralidze told reporters after the talks with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

The street demonstrations began on May 31 as a protest against the verdict in the trial of two young men suspected of killing Saralidze's teenage son and another 16-year-old teenager in December.

Protesters originally called on chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze to step down, but after Shotadze resigned, demonstrators increased their demands for the entire government to step down.

Before meeting with Saralidze, Kvirikashvili issued a statement saying that he is ready to meet with the parents of the dead teenagers "but without the participation of politically engaged individuals."

The Tbilisi City Court handed down prison sentences of 10 years and nine years for the two men convicted in the case -- one of murder and the other of attempted murder.

But protesters say they believe people other than the two defendants were responsible for the deaths and escaped punishment because their relatives worked in the Prosecutor-General's Office.

The demonstrations have tapped a vein of concern about what some Georgians say is corruption and an atmosphere of impunity in the country.

With reporting by Amos Chapple in Tbilisi
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