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Georgian President Meets With Protest Leader After Top Prosecutor Quits

RFE/RL's Georgian Service June 01, 2018

TBILISI -- Georgian President Georgi Margvelashvili has met with the leader of a protest in downtown Tbilisi a day after chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze resigned following a rally by thousands of people protesting against what they said was political influence in the trial of youths allegedly involved in a double killing last year.

The protests began late on May 31 and centered on the trial of suspects allegedly involved in the deaths of Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili, both aged 16, who were killed in a brawl between students from two different schools. A new protest is expected later today.

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.

"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.

"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.

A fresh protest is scheduled for the afternoon of 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.

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

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/mass-protests- over-murder-verdict-prompt-georgia-chief-prosecutor- shotadze-resign-kvirikashvili-/29262711.html

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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