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Restoration of independence

When the perestroika started in the Soviet Union and the positions of Moscow started to weaken, Georgia was one of the first Soviet republics to take use from the new situation. Gamsakhurdia played a key role in organizing mass pro-independence rallies held in Georgia between 1987-1990, in which he was joined by Merab Kostava on the latter's release in 1987. In 1988 the Society of Saint Ilia the Righteous (SSIR), a combination of a religious society and a political party was founded. Several strikes and meetings were organized by anti-Soviet political organizations in Tbilisi. In several meetings it was claimed that the Soviet government was using Abkhaz separatism in order to oppose the pro-independence movement in Georgia. The protests reached their peak on April 4, 1989, when tens of thousands of Georgians gathered before the House of Government on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi. The protesters, led by the Independence Committee organized a peaceful demonstration and hunger strikes, demanding the restoration of Georgian independence. Local authorities lost control over the situation. First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party Jumber Patiashvili asked Moscow to send troops to restore order. On the evening of April 8, 1989, Colonel General Igor Rodionov, Commander of the Transcaucasus Military District, ordered his troops to action. The local Georgian police units were disarmed just before the operation. On April 9, at 3:45 a.m., Soviet troops surrounded the demonstration area and attacked demonstrators with spades, a favorite weapon of Soviet special forces. As a result many people were killed, even more injured. One of the victims of the attack was a 16-year-old girl who tried to get away from the advancing soldiers, but was chased down and beaten to death near the steps of the government building, receiving blows to the head and chest. Altogether 19 people were killed, among them 17 women. The soldiers did not allow doctors and emergency workers to help injured people, ambulances were actually attacked by the advancing soldiers. Captured on film, the image of a young man beating a tank with a stick became a symbol of the Georgian anti-Soviet movement.  On April 10, in protest against the crackdown, Tbilisi and the rest of Georgia went out on strike and a 40-day period of mourning was declared. A state of emergency was declared, but demonstrations continued. The government of the Georgian SSR resigned as a result of the event. Moscow at the same disclaimed all responsibility, declaring that the demonstrators attacked first and the soldiers had to repel them. The April massacre radicalised Georgian opposition to Soviet power and strengthened the position of pro-independence forces. A few months later, a session of the Supreme Council of Georgian SSR, held on November 17-18, 1989, officially condemned the occupation and annexation of Democratic Republic of Georgia by Soviet Russia in 1921.

Opposition pressure on the communist government was manifested in popular demonstrations and strikes, which ultimately resulted in an open, multiparty and democratic parliamentary election being held on October 28, 1990. They were won by the "Round Table" coalition headed by the Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who became the head of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia. On March 31, 1991 Gamsakhurdia organized a referendum on independence, which was approved by 98.9% of the votes. The Georgian parliament passed a declaration of independence on April 9, 1991, in effect restoring the 1918-21 Georgian state. However, it was not recognized by the Soviet Union and although a number of foreign powers granted early recognition, universal recognition did not come until the following year. Gamsakhurdia was elected President in the first democratic election of May 26 with 86.5% per cent of the vote on a turnout of over 83%. On taking office, Gamsakhurdia was faced with major economic and political difficulties, especially regarding Georgia's relations with the Soviet Union. To cut Georgia’s road to independence, Moscow decided to play on national card, using national feelings in Abkhazia and South Ossetia against the Georgia’s. In this attempts they were helped by the mistakes made by the Georgian leadership, relaying more and more on slogans as “Georgia for Georgians!”.  The ethnic conflicts escalated, creating more and more problems for Gamsakhurdia. Hisopponents were highly critical of what they regarded as "unacceptably dictatorial behaviour" and opposition against him increased. On August 19, 1991 after the start of military coup in Moscow Gamsakhurdia issued an appeal to the Georgian population to remain calm, stay at their workplaces, and perform their jobs without yielding to provocations or taking unauthorized actions. The following day, Gamsakhurdia appealed to international leaders to recognize the republics (including Georgia) that had declared themselves independent of the Soviet Union and to recognise all legal authorities, including the Soviet authorities deposed by the coup. He claimed publicly on August 21 that Gorbachev himself had masterminded the coup in an attempt to boost his popularity before the Soviet presidential elections. Georgia survived the coup without any violence, but Gamsakhurdia's opponents accused him of not being resolute in opposing it. Gamsakhurdia reacted angrily, accusing shadowy forces in Moscow of conspiring with his internal enemies against Georgia's independence movement. As a result Gamsahurdia turned against the opposition, arresting its leaders and closing opposition newspapers. The government's activities aroused controversy at home and criticism abroad. The political dispute turned violent on September 2, when an anti-government demonstration in Tbilisi was dispersed by police. The most ominous development was the splintering of the Georgian National Guard into pro- and anti-government factions, with the latter setting up an armed camp outside the capital. Skirmishes between the two sides occurred across Tbilisi during October and November with occasional fatalities resulting from gunfights. Paramilitary groups — one of the largest of which was the anti-Gamsakhurdia "Mkhedrioni" set up barricades around the city. n December 22, 1991, armed opposition supporters launched a violent coup d'etat and attacked a number of official buildings including the Georgian parliament building, where Gamsakhurdia himself was sheltering. Heavy fighting continued in Tbilisi until January 6, 1992, leaving at least 113 people dead. On January 6, Gamsakhurdia and members of his government escaped through opposition lines and found at the end asylum in the reakaway Russian republic of Chechnya.  It was later claimed that Soviet forces had been involved in the coup against Gamsakhurdia. After the escape of Gamsahurdia his opponents reconstituted itself as a State Council and appointed Gamsakhurdia's old rival Eduard Shevardnadze as chairman in March 1992. The change in power was effected as a fait accompli, without any formal referendum or elections. He ruled as de facto president until the formal restoration of the presidency in November 1995. Gamsahurdia nevertheless continued to promote himself as the legitimate president of Georgia. During 1992-1993 skirmishes between the new government and Gamsakhurdia supporters continued, turning to full war in September 1993.   Gamsakhurdia returned to Georgia in September 1993 establishing his government in the western Georgian city of Zugdidi. Government forces fell back in disarray, leaving few obstacles between Gamsakhurdia's forces and Tbilisi. However, Gamsakhurdia's capture of Black Sea port of Poti threatened the interests of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a result all three countries expressed their support for Shevardnadze's government, which in turn agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States. While the Armenian and Azerbaijan support was political, Russia send troops to Georgia to aid the government. Around 2,000 Russian troops moved to protect Georgian railroads and provided logistical support and weapons to the government forces. The uprising was defeated and on the last day of the year Gamsakhurdia died in circumstances that are still unclear, probably he killed himself. With this Shevarnadze was now firmly on power and Georgia moved back to the Russia’s sphere of influence. Return of former nomenklatura to power lead Georgia to harder and harder crises. As necessary reforms were not done, economy collapsed – infrastructure was in ruins, there was not even electricity and heat in many parts of Georgia. By the level of corruption Georgia raised to one of most corrupted countries in the World. Georgia could not make choice between West and Russia, staying economically and militarily absolutely depending from Russia. In 2003 was Georgia among biggest failures among post-communist transition countries. Only after 2003 and so called “Rose Revolution” situation started to change and real reforms were launched in Georgia.