Tens of thousands of people packed Tbilisi’s Freedom Square and Rustaveli Avenue at what is expected to be the final pre-election rally organised by Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party.
All prominent party leaders spoke at the rally including Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, and party chair Irakli Kobakhidze.
During the rally, party leaders denounced the rule of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) as ‘an oppressive regime’ and the recently arrested former Georgian President and UNM founder Mikheil Saakashvili as a ‘dictator’.
Kaladze concluded the rally by calling on Georgians to ‘finally triumph over evil’ during Saturday’s election.
In the second round of municipal elections on 30 October, the ruling party faces runoffs in all five self-governing cities in the country, including the capital, Tbilisi, where Kakha Kaladze is facing off against UNM Chair Nika Melia.
Preparations for Wednesday’s rally began on Tuesday afternoon, leading to the closure of several dozen streets in the capital, leading to widespread gridlock.
Many of the rally participants appeared to have been bussed in from Georgia’s regions, with parked minibuses lining the streets near Freedom Square for kilometres. RFE/RL reported that many of the participants were employed as public servants, or were otherwise state employees.
TV Pirveli, an outlet critical of Georgia’s ruling authorities, has claimed that rally participants were paid ₾50 ($15) to attend.
In the first round of municipal elections held on 2 October in Tbilisi, Kakha Kaladze received 45% while Nika Melia received 34%.
The same day as the Georgian Dream rally in Tbilisi, UNM held a rally in Zugdidi, the capital of the western Georgian province of Samegrelo, calling for the release of Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on hunger strike for nearly a month.
The Zugdidi rally, with several thousand people in attendance, was much smaller than an earlier UNM gathering on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square on 14 October, in which tens of thousands thronged the capital’s streets.
[Read more on OC Media: Thousands rally in Tbilisi demanding freedom for Saakashvili]