Georgia police break up anti-govt protests
Protesters had gathered outside the parliament in Tbilisi, along the city’s main thoroughfare, Rustaveli Avenue, blocking traffic since last week.
Protesters were shown huddled in large groups as they were blasted with water in low temperatures.
Tear gas and large groups of riot police then forced many protesters to retreat.
The protest had “gone beyond the law”, the Interior Ministry said yesterday (Monday).
More than 20,000 demonstrators gathered (pictured) on Sunday in the largest anti-government event in years, urging the administration to resign and hold a general election.
After the crowd dispersed peacefully, hundreds continued to block the entrances to parliament on Sunday night.
Protests started after MPs from the ruling Georgian Dream party voted down legislation to hold a general election next year under a new proportional voting system.
The opposition has accused the Georgian Dream leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, of orchestrating the failure to hold an early election.
Just 101 parliamentarians supported the reforms: too few to vote them through. They were proposed by Ivanishvili, who said he was “disappointed” after the vote. Protesters say they believe he orchestrated the parliamentary defeat.
The US embassy and European Union mission expressed solidarity with the protests. A joint statement said they “recognise the deep disappointment of a wide segment of Georgian society at the failure of parliament to pass the constitutional amendments”.
“We fully support the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” the statement said. The government had “increased mistrust and heightened tensions between the ruling party and other political parties and civil society”.
“We don’t plan to discuss any new initiatives for the electoral system in the near future,” said Kakha Kaladze, Georgian Dream’s mayor of Tbilisi. He warned that “if destructive actions continue we will take action” against the demonstrators.
Kaladze accused protesters of being linked to former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s opposition who were trying to destabilise Georgia.
Opposition parties called for protests after forming a united front against Ivanishvili and his allies. The oligarch is widely believed to be in charge of the Georgian government.
Twelve Georgian Dream parliamentarians have left the party in protest at the vote.
The protesters say Georgian Dream unfairly benefits from the current voting system, winning nearly 77 per cent of seats in the 2016 election with a convincing 48.7 per cent of the vote.
Georgian Dream proposed electoral changes after anti-government protests in June.
The weekend’s protests. Picture credit: YouTube