Dozens of farmers have protested against Georgia’s lockdown measures in the town of Marneuli, in southern Georgia, claiming they have been unable to sell their agricultural products.
Farmers from several neighbouring villages in the area gathered on Wednesday in Marneuli, blocking roads and preventing lorries from passing. Protesters said that more lorries were needed to take all of their crops to market. Some dumped crops in the street as a sign of protest.
Marneuli Municipality has been quarantined from the rest of the country since 23 March in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Protesters told Radio Marneuli that they had tonnes of cucumbers and other agricultural crops which they have been unable to sell.
Footage of the protest via Radio Marneuli.
The protest took place despite a ban on gatherings of more than 3 people. The fine for violating this rule stands at ₾3,000 ($950) for individuals and ₾15,000 ($4,800) for legal entities.
The Governor of Kvemo Kartli Region, Shota Rekhviashvili, came to the protest and urged people to go home.
One protester confronting Rekhviashvili suggested he was not facing the same problems as the protesters.
‘My mother was feeling unwell, we called the emergency line. Don’t we need bread to eat? Shall we die of hunger? Will you be hungry?’, he asked.
Rekhviashvili said he was not an exception and that ‘everybody dies hungry now’.
The protest came to an end after Rekhviashvili promised to bring in more lorries to transport the farmers’ crops.
Government blames the opposition
Officials from the ruling Georgian Dream party have accused opposition parties of orchestrating the protest in order to undermine their rule.
Some protesters chanted ‘Misha!’ during the protest, referring to former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of the United National Movement Party (UNM).
During a plenary session of parliament on Wednesday afternoon where MPs voted to prolong the state of emergency, former parliamentary chair Irakli Kobakhidze accused the United National Movement (UNM) and European Georgia parties of being behind the protest.
‘This is a deliberate action which is a crime; we should have warned you not to play with fire’, said Kobakhidze.
Kvemo Kartli Governor Shota Rekhviashvili said that Ahmed Imamkuliev, a Marneuli city councillor from European Georgia who attended the demonstration, was the organiser.
Imamkuliev denied the claim saying he learnt about the protest from media reports after it was already underway.
One protester denied that there were any political motives behind their action.
‘I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about [Georgian Dream Chair Bidzina Ivanishvili] or [UNM head Mikheil Saakashvili]’, one protester said, adding that he had been fined for going to market during the curfew.