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How Much Did Temur Korshaia Pay Ugulava to Lock the Market Gate? (Part 2)

05.07.2006
How Much Did Temur Korshaia Pay Ugulava to Lock the Market Gate? (Part 2)


The locking of the Zugdidi market gate is an ongoing issue which is likely to continue for quite some time.  The reason for the market closure is the serious confrontation between the government and traders; an argument that worsens for various reasons as time goes on.

Part Two

In June 2005, market traders appealed to Zugdidi Regional Court against the Head of the Administrative Board of the Zugdidi region, demanding that the market gate be unlocked immediately. In June, as a sign of protest, they stopped trading for 12 days. Because of this one of the life sources of the town was paralyzed.

The trial took place with constant confrontations and quarrels.  However, Judge Nugzar Saria’s verdict – to allow the appeal was received with loud and happy remarks. A solicitor, representing the Administrative Board was led out through the back door by special guards

The back door will remain open for a long time, for MP Nazi Aronia. She must now try to avoid harassment and physical abuse from the traders, waiting for her near the entrances of the theater and the National Movement Office - she will have to keep using the back door. 

Following in her steps will be Mikheil Machavariani, as well as the head officials of the Zugdidi regional organization of the Nationalist Movement. After the incident Machavariani should speak up about attempts to discredit the Nationalist Movement and declare that the traders’ manipulative actions aim to combat the government and to get control over the region. He drops explicit hints regarding Grisha Kobalia, but without naming him. MP Grisha Kobalia’s interests emerge once again.


Traders win the first trial against local authority
The traders, waiting for the execution of the courts decision, experienced the following: The Financial Police has restarted its actions and since June 16, it has continued removing stalls from the market area and seizing smuggled cigarettes. However, the traders deny selling untaxed cigarettes and declare that they only sell household goods. It is evident, though, that untaxed cigarettes are still found in the market place.

Traders hold protests continuously, either blocking the central streets, or holding noisy action in front of the regional or district Administrative offices. Periodically, some representatives of opposition parties and the Parliamentary minority appear to visit them. Every official promises help and support, but no real aid has actually been seen yet.

Gocha Pipia, the Zugdidi majority Deputy, frequently meets with the demonstrators and promised to raise their issue in Parliament. He kept his promise and during a Parliament session, he announced the Zigdidi market problem. But the Parliament did not take his statement seriously and it was ignored.

Astonished by this, the traders start arranging ongoing demonstrations in front of the Town Administrative Board. They try to blockade the building for several days, despite the strengthened security presence of the Special Operation Group. The market gate problem was put aside for a while and traders began to protest against cash apparatus. Deputy Gocha Pipia remained with the demonstrators the whole time. Later, during President Saakashvili’s visit to Zugdidi, the noisiest incident took place regarding the traders. .

The night before the President’s visit to Zugdidi, certain people in masks kidnapped the most active demonstrators. One of the activists was Luiza Pipia, an active revolutionary, who had been wounded by a Special Operations Group member during Saakashvili’s former demonstrations.

Later, it becomes clear that the women were kept in a deserted house in Kutaisi by Criminal Policemen to avoid any extra “problems” during Saakashvili’s trip. This incident was observed by many witnesses, as was the kidnapping of Jina Kartozia’s daughter – making it impossible to silence them. Their testimonies however cannot have any impact upon the image of the police; they are simply following orders given by high-ranking officials, therefore nobody considers punishing them.

In any case, the traders managed to inform the President about their situation. The mission was accomplished by 13-year-old Mariam Gvaramia – daughter of the famous activist, Jina Kartozia. She handed a letter written by the traders to the President – an act that later led to Mariam Gvaramia’s kidnapping by masked policemen.


The market problem moves from the street to court
The first, second and third trials, one after another, approved traders’ claims. Tsitso Salia, a market trader states: “Zugdidi District Court (with Judge Nodar Tsalani) made a decision to unlock the market gate. The Town Administrative Board appealed to Kutaisi Appeal Court. Again we won. In the verdict, executed by the Supreme Court, it is written that this verdict is the final one - beyond amendment. Anyway, no one has appeared to unlock the gate”.

After appointing Aleksandre Kobalia, the son of MP Kobalia, as head of the Administration the latter was opposed by the traders and nothing has been improved in their favor. The traders demand the execution of the court verdict - the unlocking of the market gate by Aleksandre Kobalia, as the Town Administration is responsible for it.

There are rumors in the town that if the decision was up to Kobalia and not influenced by Ugulava’s interest in market, he would immediately order the gate to be opened. As for Kobalia himself, he refuses to comment on the fact (!), though adds that this issue will be solved by the court, in accordance with the law.

The solution already exists, dated May 2005, though it this is denied by Regional Governor Zaza Gorozia. The traders are embarrassed to hear the Governor’s statement and demand the solution be published in a local newspaper. 
 
Tsitso Salia, an active participant in the demonstrations, believes that the local government will ignore the court verdict and the market gate will remain locked. Moreover, the government will also not take responsibility for its unlawful destruction of a shop, built on the land owned by Tsitso Salia

Tsitso Salia: “They destroyed many shops along the bank - they pulled down mine as well. I received it via tender. I had been building the shop for 4 years. I sold my house to buy the land. But they destroyed my shop and nobody cared about the promised compensation. I filmed how the Special Operations Group beat us with their clubs”.

According to the traders, the state and local government budget lost 20,000GEL by locking the gate. 450 shops inside the market cannot trade because of this.

Furious about the verdict not being executed, market traders deliberately broke through the cemented market gate. But the Special Operations Group harshly responded to their actions. Throughout the night workers tried hard to restore the damaged gate.

The market traders announced that the “market issue” is likely to continue in future. Now they change from making hints into casting blame and declare that locking the gate was the first step to the alienation of the market building.

Jina Kartozia, a market trader states: “I can tell you everything about what is happening. I am not scared at all. I have nothing to lose. My daughter was kidnapped and my husband beaten for this market. Locking the market gate is the result of a criminal agreement between Korshia (Coca-cola representative in the region) and Gigi Ugulava (former Governor of Megrelia). Korshia paid him 60,000 dollars to do this as a ‘favour’. He has his protectors in Parliament as well. He is opening a trade centre in front of our market, and his co-owners will be Beso Jugheli, Temur Chkonia, Pridon Todua, Alika and Grisha Kobalia as well as other MPs. I am not stating it for the first time. I have already informed Nazi Aronia about it; I have met Mr. Zurab Nogaideli and Giorgi Arveladze, but what was the result?” 

Traders declare that the market is being purposely destroyed and it will be sold at the lowest price or left not functioning. Consequently, hundreds of people will remain without work. 

Mzia Chania, a market trader asks: “What can we do? You must pay 1500USD for a counter in advance, in addition to the 300GEL monthly rent. If I had so much money, I would not trade in a market!”

In front of the “Old Market” Temur Korshia has begun large-scale building works. The unloading of construction materials occasionally even blocks the traffic (this evidently was the fate of the place). It is beyond the population - what was the use of transferring the market from one street to another, if it would not bring any relaxation to the traffic.

Retired Pimen Bulia states: “Various things are happening here. Simply, the previous market was owned by a different government, but they have their man in this market and they all share in the profits. It is not difficult to understand. And the market is rich in cash.”

Certain parts of society like the changes, Nata Jvania, a student states: “It is good the market gate is locked. A market should not exist there. It must be transferred. The customers will go there too. What is all this noise, we are tired of it”.

There are rumors around the town that Korshia’s market is on its way to being opened and that the President is also expected to be present at the opening. The gossip also says that market traders intend to create a serious scandal for Gorozia. 
                                          

                                   
     Maia Grubeladze, Zugdidi

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