A turbulent night in Batumi. What happened there and why?
Cars burnt down, shop windows and street lights smashed, private property destroyed, pavements torn up and fences taken down, and dozens of people hospitalized – these are the aftermath of the tumultuous last night in Batumi, the capital city of Georgia’s Black Sea region of Ajara.
It was not until 6 a.m. today, March 12, more than eight hours after the riots broke out, that the police were able to bring the riot under control.
The news that a rally was under way in Batumi first spread at about 18:00 on March 11.
JAMnews photostory from Batumi:
40 people were arrested as the police reclaimed the streets from the raging protesters.
“All persons who organized and participated in this vandalism will be strictly punished by the law,” interior minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili said. Prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said “destructive political forces” were responsible for what had happened in Batumi and vowed to bring guilty parties to account.
The Batumi police headquarters were the main target of the rioters. The municipal cleaning crews are now out in the area removing the debris from the riots.
The vandalism is nothing like anything Georgia has ever seen, Georgian Facebook users wrote, after they spent the night anxiously following the events in Batumi.
All Georgian TV channels worked throughout the night, providing a live coverage of how the situation unfolded, showing protesters – most of them young people, some of whom had their faces covered – as they threw stones, turned cars upside down and set them on fire.
Ajara’s TV broadcaster says some of its journalists were mistakenly arrested as the police closed in on the rioters.
33 people were admitted to hospitals following the break-up of the riots, said local healthcare minister Zaal Mikeladze. Fifteen of them are policemen. No life-threatening injuries have been reported. Most of the injuries are from the stones that the protesters threw at the police, and from the tear gas and rubber bullets used by the policemen.
Causes of the clashes
The news that a rally was under way in Batumi first spread at about 18:00 on March 11. The protests were in response to an incident earlier that day, in which a local man had got himself involved in a punch-up with police after being issued with a parking ticket.
The man at the heart of the protests, Jimmy Varshanidze, said he had parked his car outside a drugstore because he needed to buy a medicine for his father, driving in the car with him, who felt unwell after visiting his other son’s grave. The police wouldn’t show leniency, however, and issued him with a fine.
Varshanidze verbally accosted the patrol, and a fight ensued that a number of passers-by joined to support the son and the father.
As a result, six people were arrested, Jimmy Varshanidze among them. A crowd formed quickly on the site of the incident. While protesting against the arrests, they also demanded the resignation of Ajara’s new police chief who they said was responsible for a recent increase in the number of arbitrary fines by the police.
All the arrested persons were released later at night, however the move did nothing to defuse the situation, as hundreds of people had taken to the streets by the time. The riots raged for several hours, as the protesters threw rocks, metal objects and fireworks, took down the barricades set up by the police, set a police car on fire and destroyed five other cars belonging to regular citizens. Several trees were burnt down as well.
Georgia’s president, interior minister and head of national security council are currently in Batumi, overseeing the situation.