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Georgian President Meets Protest Leader; Protesters Increase Demands


TBILISI -- Georgian President Georgi Margvelashvili has met with the leader of a protest in central Tbilisi a day after chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze resigned and demonstrators increased their demands for the entire government to step down.

Thousands of protesters first took to the streets late on May 31, angered by what they said was political influence in the trial of two youths allegedly involved in a double killing last year.

Rallies continued into the evening of June 1 in the capital, with tents being set up outside the parliament building.

Georgian television stations aired live coverage of protest leaders addressing the crowd in front of the parliament, with journalists reporting that traffic was blocked on Rustaveli Avenue, the main Tbilisi thoroughfare.

Protester anger initially centered on the trial of suspects allegedly involved in the murder of Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili, both aged 16, who were killed in a brawl between students from two different schools.

Zaza Saralidze, the father of one of the dead teens, led the protests and has insisted that people other than the two suspects who were put on trial were responsible for his son's death.

Out of the two teenage boys put on trial for the killings, one was found guilty on May 31 of killing Dadunashvili, while the second was convicted only of attempting to murder Saralidze.

Georgians Demand Government Resign Over Teenage Killings
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"The investigation lasted for six months, but today under the court ruling, the murderers of my son were not identified. And all of this because sons of influential persons, who are being covered up by the prosecution service, are killers," Saralidze told reporters covering the protests.

Margvelashvili, who said he wanted to personally express his condolences, met with Saralidze in one of the tents erected by protesters outside the building where they spent the night, monitored by police. The meeting occurred after Saralidze requested that he meet only with the president and no other officials.

"The president voiced his solidarity with us," Saralidze said after the meeting, adding that he shared with Margvelashvili details which he said had been concealed in the investigation.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili arrives at the protest site outside the old pariament building on June 1.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili arrives at the protest site outside the old pariament building on June 1.

"I already said that there is no investigation. Witnesses are being intimidated, evidence is being destroyed.

"I told the president about the details that were hidden by the investigation. I cannot say what he has leverage over and what he intends to do. But, it seemed to me, the president will hold talks with the government on how to come to a situation that will correspond to the definition of truth," Saralidze said.

He had earlier told reporters that the investigation had been hampered by prosecutors who are protecting the real culprits because they are "sons of influential people."

Following Shotadze's resignation, several thousand protesters gathered in front of the old parliament building in downtown Tbilisi, where they demanded the resignation of the entire government. Georgia's parliament moved to a new location in the city of Kutaisi, some 240 kilometers northwest of Tbilisi, in 2012. ​

Protesters hold up their phones as Zaza Saralidze speaks to the crowd blocking Rustavel Avenue on June 1.
Protesters hold up their phones as Zaza Saralidze speaks to the crowd blocking Rustavel Avenue on June 1.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili refused to step down but ordered a new probe into the killings.

Kvirikashvili said the interior minister would lead a new, more thorough probe and that parliament would convene in a special session as soon as possible to appoint members of an investigative commission.

On May 31, demonstrators carrying posters that read "Don't kill!" marched from the chief prosecutor's office to the old parliament building. The Russian news agency Interfax reported that protests in sympathy also occurred in other Georgian cities.

A young female protester told RFE/RL the demonstration was about the murder case but also more generally about a feeling that Georgia’s ruling elite governs with impunity.

"Our government does whatever they want, and as an ordinary person, I can’t do anything," she said.

"We don't want blood. We don't want vengeance. We just want justice. That's it," one protester told RFE/RL early on June 1 in Tbilisi.

Why Are Georgians Protesting In Tbilisi?
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The demonstrations follow a series of rallies held in May by hundreds of people who took to the streets of Tbilisi and erected tent camps to protest an antidrug raid by police on two popular nightclubs, angered by what critics called an excessive use of force against club goers.

They also come after mass street rallies in neighboring Armenia helped force the resignation of the prime minister and led to protest leader Nikol Pashinian being voted in by parliament as the new prime minister.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, RIA Novosti, RFE/RL's Georgian Service, RFE/RL's Amos Chapple in Tbilisi, 1TV, and Interfax
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