01 June 2011, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of May 23-29

Dispersal of oppositional protest in Tbilisi; amnesty announced in Armenia covering political prisoners; disaster was caused by torrential rains in Southern Russia; Russian Nogais hold their congress in Dagestan ", - look these and other events in the review of the week of May 23-29, 2011, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Georgia: dispersal of oppositional protest on the eve of parade

The protest actions of the oppositional movement "People's Assembly", launched in Georgia on May 21 and held in fact on the round-the-clock basis, were stopped at night on May 26. On that day Rustaveli Avenue was to host a military parade, and the term for the applied action of the "People's Assembly" was to expire; however, the protesters continued their rally in front of the Parliament of Georgia demanding resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Then, the riot police came into play and violently dispersed the crowd with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Many protesters, including the oppositional leaders, were hospitalized. Two deaths were reported; later, it became known these persons were knocked down and killed by the motorcade of the opposition leaders, who were hastily leaving Freedom Square.

On May 28, the Office of the Ombudsman of Georgia published a list of the 152 persons, detained during the May protests, which was compiled during monitoring of the temporary detention facilities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs located in Tbilisi and country regions. Most of the detainees had traumas received either at dispersal of the action or after detention. Officially, the authorities speak about 105 detainees. Most of them were subjected to administrative punishments; however, several criminal cases were initiated.

The opposition and the authorities blame each other of the deaths and injuries at the dispersal of the rally. Mr Saakashvili also accused certain "external forces". The Ambassadors to Georgia of the USA and European Union, John Bass and Philip Dimitrov, respectively, believe that the crackdown of the unsanctioned rally of the "People's Assembly" at night on May 26 was carried out legally; however, the riot police used the force disproportionately to the situation. The international organization Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders also treated the use of force by the Georgian police at dispersal of the demonstration in Tbilisi as excessive and disproportionate.

Armenia: authorities announce amnesty; political prisoners regain freedom

On May 26, the National Assembly of Armenia approved the bill "On Amnesty", initiated by President Serzh Sargsyan, under which the oppositionists, who figured in the case about mass disorders on March 1, 2008, in Yerevan, will regain freedom. The President's proposal to the Parliament to date the amnesty to the 20th anniversary of Independence of the Republic of Armenia was made on May 20.

The amnesty will release 396 prisoners; and 379 other inmates will have their punishments mitigated. 153 persons now under inquiry may also be released should they plead guilty.

On May 27 the following oppositionists were released: Nikol Pashinyan, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Aikakan Zhamanak"; Sasun Mikaelyan, one of the most famous commanders at the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; and Ara Ovannisyan, an opposition activist.

Natalia Martirosyan, Co-Chair of the Armenian Committee of the Helsinki Civil Assembly, welcomed the amnesty for political prisoners as a positive but somewhat late measure. At the same time, Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Institute of the Caucasus, believes that release of Pashinyan may be viewed as some attempt to draft certain interaction rules between the authorities and the opposition on the eve of the upcoming elections.

It is also worth noting that during the last few months Armenia saw release of the following political prisoners: Samson Khachatryan, Felix Gevorkyan, Ashot Manukyan, Musheg Sagatelyan and Gabriel Gabrielian. Most of them, about 35 persons, were released under the law "On Amnesty", which was adopted by the National Assembly of Armenia in June 2009.

Dagestan: Nogais demand self-determination within Russia

On May 29, the village of Terekli-Mekteb, the centre of the Nogai District of Dagestan, hosted a congress of Russian Nogais with participation of over 3000 persons. The congress delegates spoke in favour of unification of the nation, the representatives of which live in the Stavropol Territory, Dagestan and Chechnya; they offered the state officials to set up a commission to discuss the issue of self-determination of the Nogai nation within one administrative-and-territorial unit and also demanded to publish details about the construction of a sugar factory and the use of land in the Nogai District. The congress also discussed the issue of convening the 4th United Congress of the Nogai nation in May 2012.

Let us note here that in the morning in Terekli-Mekteb the access to the stadium, where the congress was scheduled, was blocked and guarded by policemen. On the eve of the congress a number of state officials spoke against it, finding it illegal, since the procedure of delegate nomination was not observed.

South of Russia flooded by rains

Prolonged heavy rains that fell on several regions of Southern Russia caused great harm to local residents, not yet calculated to the end.

On May 24, emergency services closed one of the two main entrances to the city of Maikop, the capital of Adygea because of a threat of collapse of the bridge over the Fars River, where one of the bridge pillars was scoured; on the same day it became known that rains flooded about 90 houses in three villages of the Giaginskaya District. According to recent data, in total, 2152 households were flooded, of them 148 houses were destroyed; about 7000 residents in 33 villages of five districts of the republic suffered. Besides, 5328 hectares of crops are under water, including 2600 hectares of winter crops, of which, presumably, 1800 hectares will die.

In several foothill areas of the Krasnodar Territory - in the Apsheron, Labinsk, Kurganinsk, Mosty and Belorechensk Districts - overflowed the banks; and dwelling settlements and farmlands were flooded. According to the latest data of the Ministry for Emergencies (MfE), in 24 localities over 1500 households with over 4000 residents were flooded. The calamity damaged socially relevant facilities - roads and bridges. The territorial authorities promise to materially help the victims in the amount of 25,000 roubles per each family member.

Heavy rains forced emergency services of other regions of Southern Russia to be on the alert: in Karachay-Cherkessia, where they expected water level rise in rivers; and in Chechnya, where there was a threat of landslides and mudflows as consequence of heavy rains and hail; however, so far, no emergencies have been registered in the territory of these republics. In the Stavropol Territory, cases of flooding were registered in the territorial centre.

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