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Thousands gathered outside the US Embassy in Tbilisi on Sunday at a protest organised by conservative opposition party the Alliance of Patriots. Protesters were demanding that former US diplomats David J Kramer and Matthew Bryza be made persona non grata in Georgia.
The rally followed a confrontation between the party’s leader, Irma Inashvili, and Kramer during the 5th ‘Now What? Tbilisi International Conference’ on 10 September.
According to the event’s hosts, the McCain Institute and Tbilisi-based think-tank the Economic Policy Research Centre, Inashvili showed up uninvited accompanied by a group of journalists from TV channel Obiektivi.
She then accused Giga Bokeria, a leading member of the European Georgia party, and ‘other Saakashvili allies’ of spreading misinformation about her party being ‘pro-Russian’, and insisted on having a say at the conference.
As the event was held up, the Georgian conservative leader was confronted by Kramer, a Senior Fellow at the McCain Institute who served as US Assistant Secretary of State under President George W Bush. Kramer, who was chairing the session being disrupted, demanded Inashvili and her companions leave the venue.
[Read by David J Kramer on OC Media: Opinion | Only Moscow benefits from rising Tbilisi-Baku tensions]
Inashvili, who serves as Vice Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, accused Kramer of touching her and shouting ‘get out!’ several times.
Footage of the confrontation from TV Pirveli.
After leaving the conference, Inashvili accused Kramer of lying about not knowing who she was. She also accused former US diplomat Matthew Bryza of falsely accusing her of scratching him.
‘Stop supporting the parties of torturers’
On Sunday, supporters of the Alliance of Patriots blocked the motorway in front of the US Embassy in Tbilisi and set up a stage nearby. Kramer's quarrel with Inashvili was broadcasted on a projector on the stage.
Speaking in front of the thousands gathered, Inashvili called on the US government to ‘stop supporting the parties of torturers’, referring to the formerly ruling United National Movement (UNM) and former members who formed the European Georgian party in early 2017.
The Alliance of Patriots has been critical of the UNM and their leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, for their record on human rights, criminal justice, and the penitentiary system.
Recordings that showed prisoners being tortured that were broadcasted on opposition-leaning TV channels in the run-up of 2012’s parliamentary elections played a major role in mobilising voters against the UNM.
‘The leaders of these parties tortured and killed people. This is not a European, Western way of thinking. You should realise that we respect our homeland’s friends, but […] the immense audacity and disrespect of Kramer and Bryza very much damage our relations’, Inashvili said.
Inashvili also called ‘the likes of Kramer and Bryza’ enemies of US President Donald Trump, who ‘badmouth their own president while in Georgia’.
‘Pro-Russian’ and ‘encouraged by Georgian Dream’
The Alliance of Patriots has long advocated for Georgia to take a neutral military and foreign policy stance and for renewal of dialogue with Russia. They have repeatedly insisted that this is the only way to resolve the territorial conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
European Georgian and the UNM, as well as many leading civil society groups, describe the party as ‘pro-Russian’ and ‘anti-Western’. European Georgian and the UNM have also accused them of secretly working with the ruling Georgian Dream party.
Speaking to IPN following Sunday’s protest, European Georgia MP Sergi Kapanadze said that protests by the Alliance of Patriots were ‘encouraged’ by Georgian Dream. He also accused the ruling party of providing financial support and of sending their own members to protests.
The party, who gained 6 of 150 seats in the 2016 parliamentary elections, has since made several official trips to the Kremlin, meeting with Russian State Duma MPs.
They also actively endorsed Salome Zurabishvili for president in October 2018, warning against a possible ‘comeback’ by the UNM. Zurabishvili was primarily supported by Georgian Dream.
Inashvili crashed the conference in Tbilisi on the same day that former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested Georgia ask for NATO membership with Article 5, the organisation’s mutual defence clause, applying only to territories controlled by the central government.
Rasmussen's proposition, later dismissed by James Apathurai, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, still triggered a short-lived but heated debate between supporters and opponents in Georgia. Inashvili and her party were among the sceptics of the plan.
‘We are not going to be accepted anywhere, let’s stop with these kinds of lies about NATO’, Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi, another of the party’s leaders told protesters on Sunday. ‘Germany and France, key members, openly reject the idea.’
Georgian Dream MP Gia Volski called the Sunday’s rally ‘harmful’, criticising Inashvili’s party for ‘equating Kramer’s conduct with the US’.