Georgia rejects EU criticism of Tbilisi violence
Georgia's ambassador to the EU has said the European Commission made misleading statements about street clashes in Tbilisi that left almost 40 people in hospital and two dead.
Speaking to EUobserver on Thursday (26 May) in Brussels, Salome Samadashvili said EU institutions and member states have not delivered any form of official complaint to Georgia about the events despite commission claims.
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"No one has communicaed these kinds of comments to us about what happened - not any representative of the commission nor any EU member state either here or in Tbilisi. So we were very surprised to hear this line," she explained. "Up till now I have not heard anything, anything. The commission spokesperson's statement is not in line with the truth."
Earlier the same day commission spokeswoman Natasha Butler told press that Brussels is "concerned" about the "regrettable" events and warned Georgia "not to use violence as a means for political ends."
"We urge the need to maintain law and order but as we have already told the Georgian government this needs to be done in an appropriate way and the EU therefore urges the Georgian government to investigate all allegations of excessive use of violence."
Riot police on Thursday attacked anti-government protesters on Rustali Avenue in Tbilisi with water cannon, tear gas and rubber batons fifteen minutes after their permit to hold the demonstration expired at midnight. The protesters fought back with sticks and flag poles. Two people died after being hit by a car.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili described the events as a Russian plot to weaken his rule on the day of the 20th anniversary of Georgia's declaration of independence.
Human Rights Watch said the police used "excessive violence" against people "who posed no threat."
Noting that EU-Georgia relations are "increasingly close," Samadashvili said that the street clashes in no way affected her plans to host an independence day event with EU officials and diplomats in a Belgian foreign ministry building in Brussels on Thursday evening.
"There might be no Russian presence, but the Russians were not planning to come to our reception [anyway]," she remarked.
A senior EU diplomat told EUobserver that the Tbilisi clashes are "much less serious" than Saakashvili's violent crackdown on demonstrators in 2007, an event which harmed his reputation in EU capitals.
He added that while EU-Georgia relations are progressing well at the techncial level of agreements on visas and trade, the political mood is different: "Saakashvili dosn't have the same aura he had in the beginning after the Rose Revolution and in additon to that, after a lot of crises and problems, there is a degree of Georgia fatigue."
Meanwhile, France's deal to help Russia build ski resorts for the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi and to sell it four Mistral-class warships - clinched at the G8 summit in Deauville on Thursday - has the potential to generate bad feeling from the Georgian side.
Georgia aims to boycott the Sochi games due to the 2008 Georgia-Russia war. A Russian general, Vladimir Vysotsky, boasted in 2009 that if he had had a Mistral he would have won the 2008 war in 40 minutes.
"I'm sure Georgian-French relations will remain very good. What concerns us are the statements by some Russian officials, including military personnel, about the possible usage of their newly-acquired military capabilities," Samadashvili said.