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Tbilisi Subway Workers Strike, As New Antigovernment Protests Expected

Protest leader Zara Saralidze arrives outside the old parliament building Tbilisi on June 4 for a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

TBILISI -- A subway workers' strike has slowed transport in the Georgian capital, where protesters demanding the government's resignation were gearing up for a fifth day of demonstrations.

All subway stations in Tbilisi were closed on June 4, and city authorities urged residents to use buses instead.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze apologized to citizens for the transportation problems and said there are no plans to meet the striking workers' demand for higher wages.

Police guard the entrance to the Chancellery building in Tbilisi on June 4.
Police guard the entrance to the Chancellery building in Tbilisi on June 4.

The strike came after four days of protests in central Tbilisi by demonstrators who say justice has not been done following the stabbing deaths of two teenagers in a brawl in December.

The Tbilisi City Court handed down prison sentences of 10 years and nine years for the two men convicted in the case -- one of murder and the other of attempted murder.

But protesters, including Zaza Saralidze, whose son was one of the victims, say they believe people other than the two defendants were responsible for the deaths and escaped punishment because their relatives worked in the Prosecutor-General's Office.

All subway stations were closed in Tbilisi on June 4.
All subway stations were closed in Tbilisi on June 4.

The demonstrations have tapped a vein of concern about what some Georgians say is corruption and an atmosphere of impunity in the South Caucasus country's ruling elite.

“I have promised my murdered child that every killer will be punished,” Saralidze told protesters late on June 3. He closed by shouting, “The system must be destroyed!"

Saralidze arrived outside government headquarters in central Tbilisi for an expected meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in the afternoon on June 4, but it was not immediately clear whether the talks would take place.

Scores of police formed a perimeter blocking the entrance to the building.

Kvirikashvili issued a statement saying that he is ready to meet with the parents of the dead teenagers “but without the participation of politically engaged individuals," suggesting he wanted a one-on-one meeting.

Saralidze has said Kvilikashvili should meet with a group of people, not just himself.

On June 2, Saralidze called on “all Georgian political parties to join forces and to dismantle this system together."

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

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

With reporting by Amos Chapple in Tbilisi