It has been two hours since the protesters against the construction of the Namakhvani hydropower plant in western Georgia have been marching along the central streets of the capital city of Tbilisi.
From the First Republic Square protesters marched to Freedom Square and blocked Rustaveli Avenue, later returning to First Republic Square where they will continue their demonstration.
Varlam Goletiani, the leader of Rioni Gorge Defenders civic movement, said that they will block Rustaveli Avenue and will continue demonstrations until the government fulfills their demands.
Earlier, protesters blocked the road near the House of Justice.
While marching protesters called on the public to join the rally and chanted: ‘Come out [in support], come out!’.
Goletiani called on the public to come to a rally on May 26 instead of the parade that will be held as part of the Independence Day of Georgia. He said that is how they will remind the authorities that May 26 is ‘their day’.
Turkish construction company Enka says it is ‘ready to continue a business discussion with all interested parties’ in response to protests against construction of the Namakhvani hydropower plant in western Georgia.
Many activists and locals protest the construction of the HPP in the region, claiming that the construction was launched without sufficient research and thorough consideration of risks, including immediate security risks due to active seismic activity.
The protesters say that in addition to the environmental threat, the government has ‘relinquished state interests’ in the contract with Enka.
After fruitless negotiations between the protesters and the government, the decision was made to move the protest to the capital city of Tbilisi. They gathered in Tbilisi yesterday and called on the government to fulfill their demands by 12 p.m. on May 24.
The demands include:
- Enka’s departure from the Rioni Gorge
- The termination of the agreement between Enka and the state and cancelation of all documents issued since 2015
- A moratorium on HPPs
- The resignation of Economy Minister Natia Turnava
Protesters have gathered at the First Republic square in Tbilisi demanding the suspension of Namakhvani HPP construction in Rioni gorge. Photo: Mzia Saganelidze/RFERL.
The statement published by Enka on its Facebook page reads that the Namakhvani HPP project is a ‘Georgian affair, which serves the well-being of the residents of the Rioni Gorge and the whole country’.
The statement also reads that the opinion of both the gorge and each citizen of Georgia ‘is important for us’.
We recognise our share of responsibility to the public and once again publicly declare our readiness to continue the business discussion with all interested parties”, reads the statement.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has also commented on the ongoing protests in Tbilisi, which organisers warn that if the government fails to make a decision, they will ‘entirely paralyse the city’.
In response, Garibashvili said that ‘every citizen should know that speaking in the language of an ultimatum is categorically unacceptable’.
We offered a suitable dialogue format to the protesters… In addition, we invited the EU Special Representative, who will once again examine in detail all the details of this project, the effects of environmental impact. I instructed the Ministry of Justice to re-examine the compliance of this project by independent law firms with international practice… At the end of the month, I will meet the founder and owner of the company, the investor, who will visit Tbilisi. I myself am involved and want to be aware of all details so that there is nothing contradictory in this agreement”, Garibashvili said.
Varlam Goletiani, the leader of Rioni Gorge Defenders civic movement, said that the protesters are not going to compromise with the government.
He said all these methods have already been exhausted.