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Protest In Tbilisi Pauses But No Change In Demands For New Government

Protesters hold their phones aloft as Tbilisi protest leader Zaza Saralidze speaks to the crowd.
Protesters hold their phones aloft as Tbilisi protest leader Zaza Saralidze speaks to the crowd.

A rally by thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of Georgia's government ended in the early hours of the morning on June 2, but organizers said the demonstration would resume later in the evening.

Zaza Saralidze, leader of the rally which started out on May 31 as a mass protest against the verdict in the trial of two young men suspected of murdering his teenage son, said he would stay overnight in a tent encampment erected in front of Tbilisi's old parliament building.

He said demonstrators will not relent on their demands for a new government despite efforts by Georgian President Georgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili to address the protesters' demands for reforms in the justice system.

Saralidze and the protesters were not deterred from their campaign against the government on June 1 after a Tbilisi City Court handed down prison sentences of 10 years and nine years for the two suspects who the court earlier found guilty of murder and attempted murder of Saralidze's son and another teenage boy stabbed to death in a brawl in December.

Saralidze has insisted that people other than the two suspects who were put on trial were responsible for his son's death and escaped punishment because their relatives worked in the prosecutor's office.

Saralidze was not satisfied when chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze stepped down on May 31 in a nod to his demands. He says the entire government should step down.

"We are against injustice. We are against the arbitrariness of the authorities and the rotten political system, which must collapse," he told the rally on June 1.

Media reported that demonstrations in sympathy with Saralidze have occurred in towns around the country, including Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi, Gori, Kutaisi, and Zugdidi.

Late on June 1, a small counterdemonstration was organized by nationalists and religious activists, including leaders of the hard-line March of the Georgians movement, near the Tbilisi Concert Hall.

Media reported that Tbilisi police detained several of the nationalist protesters for allegedly breaching public order.

During the day on June 1, Saralidze met with Margvelashvili, who he said voiced "solidarity" with the protests.

"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 leverage he has 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.

Saralidze has charged that the government investigation of the teens' murder was hampered by prosecutors who are protecting the real culprits because they are "sons of influential people."

Despite calls for his resignation, Kvirikashvili has refused to step down and instead has 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.

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