- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2011

ANGRY OPPOSITION IN GEORGIA

The overheated political opposition in the Republic of Georgia demanded the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador John Bass on Thursday, accusing him of supporting a “band of furious criminals” - a reference to the pro-Western government that broke up a violent opposition protest last month.

Mr. Bass, you have to leave our country,” said Goga Khaindrava, a leader of the United Opposition. “You have to leave Georgia because a band of furious criminals, encouraged by you, suppressed the wish of a part of Georgian men and women to live in a fair state.”

“You have already lost your dignity,” he added. “Please do not deprive your country of it.”

Mr. Bass has said repeatedly that the United States supports the right of peaceful protest but that the government has a responsibility to maintain order.

He has called for investigations into charges that riot police used excessive force when they fired tear gas and rubber bullets to scatter hundreds of demonstrators May 26, when they refused to disperse after five days of protests. Several thousand demonstrators left the streets of the capital the night before the police crackdown.

Mr. Khaindrava also accused President Mikhail Saakashvili of “violence, injustice and illegality.”

Mr. Saakashvili responded with charges that the opposition was trying to overthrow his government and impose a pro-Russian regime.

Mr. Bass, stung by the opposition criticism, has tried to explain that his initial reaction to the protest was a balanced call for peaceful demonstration and government restraint. Last week, he called the criticism “unfounded” and suggested that the opposition had twisted his words.

“The U.S. strongly supports the right of people to speak freely … and demonstrate peacefully,” he told reporters in the capital, Tbilisi.

Mr. Bass expressed his concern over the “violence [and] credible reports of excessive use of force by authorities.”

“It’s also important to remember … that there were clearly elements in that protest … who were interested in provoking violence and forcing a confrontation,” he said, adding that “governments have the responsibility to maintain public order.”

Opposition leader Nino Burjanadze, who organized the protests, was caught on tape discussing plans for the protests with her son, Anzor Bitsadze, who expected the demonstrations to spark an “Egypt scenario,” a reference to the “Arab Spring” protests.

“The society is divided. … Fifty percent do not see [Russia] as an enemy at all. … Everyone supports a close relationship with Russia,” Mrs. Burjanadze said in the tape, which the government released after the protests.

Mr. Saakashvili, who supports strong ties to the United States and NATO, led the Rose Revolution in 2003 that forced the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Communist Party boss and the first president of Georgia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

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