In the evening, more than 35,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Georgian parliament, blocking traffic on the capital’s main artery and waving European and Georgian flags, as well as signs “We are Europe”, noted journalists from the AFP.
All opposition parties and several pro-European organizations had called for demonstrations to increase pressure on the ruling party, Georgian Dream, accused of authoritarian drift and of having deteriorated relations with Brussels.
“We demand that the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili (founder of the Georgian Dream) renounce executive power and transfer it, respecting the Constitution, to a government of national unity”, they had called in a message on Facebook before the demonstration.
A new government must “carry out the reforms requested by the EU and which will automatically bring us the status of candidate for EU membership”, continues the text.
– “Not democratic” system –
For one of the demonstrators, surgeon Nika Gorgaslidze, 45, “Ivanishvili pulls the strings of the government, of the parliament, of the courts, of the media: it is a system which is not democratic and which is incompatible with the Georgia’s goal of becoming a member of the EU”.
“Our protests will not stop until we have a new government capable of implementing the reforms necessary to become a member of the EU,” assured Marina Sanodze, a 19-year-old student.
On 23rd June European leaders said they were “ready to grant candidate status” to Georgia, the target in 2008 of a Russian armed offensive, but once major reforms have been carried out.
This decision was followed by demonstrations against the Georgian Dream, during which it was demanded that Bidzina Ivanishvili – considered the strong man of the country, even if he no longer has an official political function – let go of power.
Georgia, which borders the Black Sea, applied to join the EU along with Ukraine and Moldova, two other ex-Soviet republics, days after Russia attacked Ukraine on 24 february.
On June 23, European leaders granted this status to kyiv and Chisinau, but not to Tbilisi, while recognizing Georgia’s “European perspective”. “Georgia’s future is within the EU”, assured the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.
This announcement was hailed as “historic” by Georgian President Salomé Zurabishvili. “We are ready to work with determination over the next few months to achieve candidate status,” she wrote on Twitter.
But Brussels is asking Tbilisi for reforms to strengthen justice, freedom of the press, the electoral system, and fight against the oligarchs, in a country regularly shaken by political crises.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibachvili, of the Georgian Dream party, assured that his government was “mobilized” to carry out these reforms and obtain candidate status “as soon as possible”.
Georgia has wanted for years to join the EU and NATO. Against the background of these ambitions, a short war opposed it in 2008 to Russia, which immediately recognized the independence of two Georgian separatist territories.