Georgian Protest Leader Says 'System Must Be Destroyed' As Demonstrations Continue

TBILISI -- Hundreds of people gathered again in the Georgian capital for a fourth night of antigovernment rallies.

Late on June 3, the leader of the protest movement, Zaza Saralidze, appeared and vowed to stand by the protesters' side, as he said they have stood by his.

In a short speech, he said that his demands remain the same.

“I have promised my murdered child that every killer will be punished,” he said.

He closed by shouting, “The system must be destroyed!"

The demonstrations began on May 31 as a protest against the verdict in the trial of two young men suspected of killing Saralidze’s teenage son.

Protesters originally called on chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze to step down, but after Shotadze resigned, demonstrators increased their demands for the entire government to quit.

Rustaveli Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare, remained closed and thronged with people late on June 3.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports that Saralidze is scheduled to meet with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on June 4.

Earlier on June 3, the crowd had turned in unison to face a line of some 100 police officers and began to push out onto Rustaveli Avenue. The crowd eventually blocked the street.

Small scuffles broke out between police and some protesters, our correspondent reported from the Georgian capital. No arrests were reported.

Saralidze had earlier urged “all political parties” in Georgia to join the demonstrations.

“I can see how instigators are attempting to drive a wedge among us in this peaceful rally," Saralidze told hundreds of protesters late on June 2, before calling on “all Georgian political parties to join forces and to dismantle this system together."

Demonstrations in sympathy with Saralidze have occurred elsewhere in the country, including the town of Gori, where inscriptions appeared scrawled on central streets and underground crossings overnight, saying, "The killer is in the street" and "Where is justice?”

The leader of the opposition Democratic Georgia party, Nino Burjanadze, was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying her group “did not intend to politicize" the protest movement, although she added that it did not mean “opposition parties are giving up their political struggle.”

“Rather, it means we are not using this process for our own political ends," she added.

Saralidze said demonstrators will not relent on their demands despite efforts by Georgian President Georgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili to address the protesters' calls for reforms in the justice system.

Saralidze and the protesters were not deterred on June 1 after a Tbilisi City Court handed down prison sentences of 10 years and nine years for the two suspects, who the court earlier found guilty of murder and attempted murder of Saralidze's son and another teenage boy stabbed to death in a brawl in December.

The protest leader insisted that people other than the two suspects who were put on trial were responsible for his son's death and escaped punishment because their relatives worked in the Prosecutor-General's Office.

"We are against injustice. We are against the arbitrariness of the authorities and the rotten political system, which must collapse," Saralidze told the rally on June 1.

Late on June 1, a small counterdemonstration was organized by nationalists and religious activists, including leaders of the hard-line March of the Georgians movement, near the Tbilisi Concert Hall.

The protests in Georgia followed weeks of unrelated street demonstrations in neighboring Armenia that forced the prime minister to resign and led to the election of Nikol Pashinian, an opposition activist and politician, to the premiership.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, RFE/RL's Amos Chapple,, AFP, Reuters, RIA Novosti, 1TV, BNE IntelliNews, and Interfax