Georgia Banishes Its Heroes from Tbilisi's Heroes Square
Georgian police on January 3 broke up a hunger strike by war veterans in festively decorated Tbilisi, an event so far snubbed by the country's main TV news outlets. Demanding state benefits and a change in the government's allegedly "undignified" attitude toward them, a handful of veterans of the 1990s separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia had camped out for over a week at a war memorial to fallen soldiers at downtown Tbilisi’s Heroes Square. Their state perks are essentially limited to a monthly utilities allowance that amounts to about $12 and a free public transportation pass.
The Interior Ministry claimed that police had to use force against the veterans after the demonstrators refused to remove makeshift tents from the area and verbally abused police officers. Footage shot by Interpressnews agency, though, shows police beating the protesters. In the middle of the scuffle, one purported police official punched the face of a woman, an opposition member who spoke out against the veterans' removal. Eleven protestors were arrested in the scuffle, but were released on January 4 after being fined 400 laris (about $225) each for alleged petty hooliganism and defying police orders.
The Office of the Public Defender has released a statement condemning the violence.