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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Democracy's New Face on the Streets of Tbilisi

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Everyone in Tbilisi has their own version of what happened on Nov. 7, the day when riot police put down the largest anti-government demonstrations since the Rose Revolution. The following day, media restrictions were in force under the state of emergency imposed by President Mikheil Saakashvili. Reliable information was hard to find, so I took a trip through my fearful and disturbed city to survey the psychological wreckage.

Outside a hill-top church, high above Tbilisi, scores of young people were milling around, some still wearing white headbands, which were the symbol of the opposition protests, and the medical masks they had used to protect themselves from the tear gas fired by the riot squads.

One young protester said he and his friends had fled in panic when the police charged. Priests helped them hide in the basement of the church. He showed me a rubber bullet that he said had hit him. "Our media is silent now, so you foreign journalists must deliver information about what happened out of the country," he urged.

I moved on to a run-down hospital where some of the hundreds injured in the clashes had been taken. A middle-aged man with a broken collarbone and lung trauma said policemen had lined up to beat and kick him after he went out to look for a relative who had gone missing amid the chaos.

Then came a call to a news conference from one of the opposition leaders. He had cuts on his face and a wound on his head after a thrashing from the cops. He pointed to his damaged head and declared, "This is the face of democracy in Georgia."

The next day, the government started to release more details of its version of the events of Nov. 7. A compact disc was distributed to the foreign press pack, showing covert footage and tape recordings of opposition leaders chatting with officials from the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi.

People who saw the television images of the unrest must understand the forces behind it, I was told at a midnight press briefing by a couple of senior government officials. Russian spooks had been manipulating parts of the opposition in an attempt to destabilize and overthrow the state, they claimed, insisting that what happened Nov. 7 had been terrible but necessary.

"There were direct calls for people to go to the parliament and use all possible methods to finish off this government, and some of the leaders of these riots were coordinating their activities with secret service operatives at the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi," one of them said.

"No," he insisted, "the police did not overreact."

Matthew Collin is a journalist in Tbilisi.