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Georgian Protest Leader Gives Authorities Progress Ultimatum


Zaza Saralidze emerges after meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on June 4.

TBILISI -- The father of one of the two Georgian teenagers whose deaths have triggered massive protests in Tbilisi says his meeting with the prime minister has not altered his determination to fight against the country's corrupt ruling elite.

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

The meeting between Kvirikashvili and Saralidze came after four days of protests in central Tbilisi by demonstrators who say justice has not been done following the stabbing deaths of two teenagers in a brawl in December.

Saralidze, who has emerged as one of the leaders of the protests, told reporters after the meeting that the protest actions will continue if no progress is made in the investigation of the deaths by June 10.

Police guard the entrance to the Chancellery building in Tbilisi on June 4.
Police guard the entrance to the Chancellery building in Tbilisi on June 4.

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, including Zaza Saralidze, whose son was one of the victims, 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.

Meanwhile, a subway workers' strike has slowed transport in the Georgian capital, where protesters demanding the government's resignation were gearing up for a fifth day of demonstrations.

All subway stations in Tbilisi were closed on June 4, and city authorities urged residents to use buses instead.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze apologized to citizens for the transportation problems and said there were no plans to meet the striking workers' demand for higher wages.

All subway stations were closed in Tbilisi on June 4.
All subway stations were closed in Tbilisi on June 4.

The demonstrations have tapped a vein of concern about what some Georgians say is corruption and an atmosphere of impunity in the South Caucasus country's ruling elite.

Late on June 3, Saralidze told demonstrators: "I have promised my murdered child that every killer will be punished. The system must be destroyed!"

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

Saralidze initially said Kvilikashvili should meet with a group of people, not just himself.

On June 2, Saralidze called on "all Georgian political parties to join forces and to dismantle this system together."

Saralidze's son, Davit, and another 16-year-old boy, Levan Dadunashvili, were killed in a fight between students from different schools 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 resign.

Demonstrations in sympathy with Saralidze have occurred elsewhere in the country, including the town of Gori, where inscriptions were scrawled on central streets and underground crossings, saying, "The killer is in the street" and "Where is justice?”

With reporting by Amos Chapple in Tbilisi, Reuters, and