Georgian police take back control of parliament
Georgian riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon this morning (Friday) to drive protesters away from the national parliament.
Thousands of demonstrators calling for the government to resign tried to storm the parliament. A total of 39 police and 30 civilians were treated in hospital, said David Sergeenko, an adviser to the prime minister. Rustavi-2 television reported that 100 injured demonstrators were treated at one hospital.
Riot shields and body armour seized from police was passed through the crowd and an injured policeman was seen being dragged to an ambulance by protesters.
Some demonstrators carried abusive signs about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Activists waving Georgian flags used surgical masks and seized police shields to protect themselves against tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. By 5am, police appeared to have forced protesters to disperse.
The protest was sparked by the Thursday visit of Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov to the parliament as part of an assembly of legislators from Orthodox countries.
The last year has seen increasingly polarised politics in Georgia, with frustrations over the ruling Georgian Dream party growing.
Gavrilov has backed calls for independence for the Georgian rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Georgia lost control of during the short August 2008 war with Russia.
The MP is also an ally of Putin, who is despised by many Georgians.
Russia recognises South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
Most of the international community considers the territories to be informally occupied by Russia, meaning they are in legal limbo.
Georgia and Russia broke off diplomatic relations after the 2008 war and anger towards Russia is common. Many Georgians resent any sort of official visit from Moscow.
Street protest erupted after Gavrilov sat in the chair of the Georgian parliamentary Speaker during a session of the assembly.
“We asked the government not to allow this guy to come here, but they have allowed, not only allowed to cross the Georgian border, but to sit in the chair of the president of the parliament. So, this was the biggest humiliation of the nation and that’s why this big crowd came despite these bullets and tear gas people are here and still fighting,” said Gigi Ugulava of the opposition European Georgia party.
Billionaire former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of Georgian Dream, said he “fully shares the sincere outrage of the Georgian citizens”. He made his fortune in Russia.
Former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now a Ukrainian citizen and faces criminal charges in Georgia, called for police to side with the protesters. Saakashvili says the Georgian accusations against him are political revenge and has accused Ivanishvili of allowing increased Kremlin influence in Georgia.
The 2008 war for South Ossetia was short and decisive. Picture credit: Wikimedia