Georgian Prosecutors Allege Mass Protests Were Part Of Attempted Coup

TBILISI -- Prosecutors have alleged that the mass protests that roiled the Georgian capital last month were part of an attempted coup by unnamed individuals seeking to seize power.

Opposition politicians derided the announcement made July 4 by the Prosecutor-General's Office, and suggested the government could be seeking a pretext to clamp down on opposition groups.

Protesters jammed the streets in front of the Georgian parliamentary building beginning June 20, infuriated by a Russian politician who was granted permission to sit in the parliamentary speaker's seat and address conservative lawmakers from several countries.

The presence of the Russian lawmaker touched a nerve for Georgians who remain bitter over Russia's invasion of the country 11 years ago. That brief war also resulted in two breakaway regions gaining de-facto independence from Tbilisi.

The June 20 protests turned violent when riot police clashed with demonstrators, with 240 people being hospitalized. Nightly protests continued for nearly two weeks after, though they were mainly peaceful.

On July 4, Koka Katsitadze, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, told reporters that the criminal investigation into the cause of the protests was now focusing on the possibility that individuals were seeking to overthrow the government.

Katsitadze did not identify the individuals involved, but said that investigators had interviewed dozens of witnesses.

Katsitadze also said an opposition lawmaker remains under investigation for allegedly inciting a riot during the protests. The lawmaker, Nika Melia, who is a leader of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement party, has called the charges absurd.

United National Movement officials criticized the prosecutors' coup allegations, and accused Bidzina Ivanishvili -- a powerful, billionaire businessman, former prime minister, and backer of the Georgian Dream political coalition- - of being behind the new charges.

Ivanishvili has “decided to enter a very dangerous phase of the announced political terror," Salome Samadashvili, a representative of the United National Movement, told reporters.

Also July 4, the Interior Ministry said that four people had been detained, accused of attacking police officers during the June 20 protests.