(rferl Report) TBILISI — Thousands of people took to the streets in Georgia to protest an overnight antidrug raid by police on two popular nightclubs in the capital, demanding the resignations of the interior minister and the prime minister.
Around 4,000 demonstrators — many dancing to electronic music pulsating from speakers — had gathered outside the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi by early evening on May 12 in response to the morning raid that drew criticism for what some called an excessive use of police force against clubgoers.
The Interior Ministry said its officers had detained eight suspected drug dealers after storming the two clubs, Bassiani and Cafe Gallery, in the early hours of May 12.
Critics call the operation a PR stunt by police aimed at demonstrating its commitment to enforcing strict antidrug laws and intimidating the thriving and growing club scene in the Georgian capital.
Some clubgoers allege that drugs may have been planted by police.
“The only thing they’ve been trying to do lately is to turn public opinion against humane drug policies,” activist Beka Tsikarishvili told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service at the rally.
“This is what the recent events illustrate. So we really cannot hope that under this administration any positive changes can take place in this country,” Tsikarishvili added.
The raid followed a string of what are believed to be drug-related deaths in Tbilisi in recent weeks.
Police detained several protesters near the clubs at dawn as authorities tried to close off nearby streets.
They later detained several more protesters and activists as clubgoers made their way toward the parliament building to stage a spontaneous protest.
Giorgi Mshvenieradze, the head of the Georgian Democracy Initiative, a nongovernmental organization, said that some in Georgia “view clubbing subculture as something debauched and immoral.”
“This is very bad. But what’s even worse is that the state started playing their game and showed society that on a Friday night it can storm a nightclub with hundreds of special forces, just to detain eight people,” Mshvenieradze told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service.
Mamuka Chelidze, head of the Interior Ministry’s criminal police department, told a news conference that the ministry “has been conducting intensive investigative measures for the last three months to establish the facts of the drug trade in Bassiani and Gallery nightclubs.”
Anna Subeliani, one of the organizers of the rally, told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service that they will not stop until their demands are met.
Another activist, Giorgi Tabagari, called the raid on the two clubs a blow to progressive social movements in Georgia.
Several leading human rights organizations in Georgia have issued a joint petition calling for the government to hold those responsible for the police operation accountable.
The groups said the raid was a “demonstration of force” that “openly and blatantly violated human rights,” and they urged authorities to introduce more humane drug policies.