TBILISI -- Celebrations marking the 74th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany were marred in Georgia on May 9 by shouting matches between rival demonstrators and the booing of President Salome Zurabishvili during a memorial ceremony.
Zurabishvili was heckled and verbally harassed by anti-Russia demonstrators who chanted "Traitor!" as she laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Tbilisi's Vake Park on May 9.
After she was heckled, Zurabishvili said: "All the heroes who died in that war deserve respect. All Georgians believed that they fought for freedom and the independence of their country. They all died for Georgia's independence, and I want to honor their memories."
Two rallies, one by pro-Russia organizations and another by an anti-Kremlin movement called Russia Is An Occupier, were held simultaneously at Vake Park on May 9 -- starting before the Georgian president's arrival there and continuing until after her departure.
The demonstrators were separated from each other by police, leading them to shout insults at each other from across the police cordons.
Pro-Russia demonstrators carried red flags and other Soviet symbols. They demanded neutrality for Georgia and the restoration of relations with Russia.
Their challengers were holding Georgian national flags, anti-Russia posters, and portraits of Giorgi Antsukhelidze, a Georgian soldier who was killed in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia during the August 2008 five-day Russia-Georgia war, after which Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia.
Moscow has kept troops in both regions since then, over Tbilisi's objections.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said that five demonstrators were briefly detained. They were charged with minor hooliganism and disobeying the police and ordered not to leave the city before being released.
One of the detainees was a demonstrator who wore Soviet symbols, while four others were anti-Russia protesters.
The ministry said that one other person was warned not to openly carry Soviet symbols, which is illegal in Georgia.