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Two arrested over Tbilisi market blaze

28 July 2017
The building of Bavshvta Samkaro as of 27 July (OC Media)

The director and a security guard of the Bavshvta Samkaro (children’s world) shopping centre in Tbilisi were detained on 27 July, six months after a fire devastated the market.

Giorgi Machavariani, the head of the market, was detained for allegedly violating fire safety rules, which is punishable by up to six years in prison.

Mikheil Tevzadze, a security guard, has been charged with negligence, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, ‘as a result of violations of fire safety rules and negligence, it was impossible to contain the fire’.

The shopping centre, as well as nearby clothes and wholesale markets covering a total area of more than 10,000 square meters, were completely destroyed during the 30 January fire.

According to the market’s management, more than 1,000 people, mostly vendors, were affected. Tbilisi City Council (sakrebulo) allocated ₾3,000 ($1,300) in compensation to each of them, but vendors claim their losses were greater.

‘In some cases, the losses were more than ₾100,000 ($42,000)’, a statement from the vendors said.

Tens of vendors gathered in front of the Prosecutor’s Office on 28 July in support of the director. They urged the prosecutor to investigate the case objectively, claiming that Machavariani was a scapegoat.

‘The man who built the market and dedicated his life to it would not set it on fire’, Khatuna Bregvadze, one of the vendors told Radio Tavisupleba, RFE/RL’s Georgian service.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is still investigating whether the fire was set intentionally.

Tbilisi City Court is yet to decide whether to grant the pair bail.

After months of protests, vendors are still urging the Government to meet with them to discuss their condition. On 17 July, a number of them gathered outside the headquarters of the ruling Georgian Dream party, but politicians did not meet them.

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