Georgian police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters demanding snap parliamentary polls after a Russian lawmaker addressed the assembly from the speaker’s seat, causing an uproar in Tbilisi.
About 10,000 protesters gathered outside parliament after a controversial address by Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov, with some breaking through riot police cordons to enter the parliament courtyard.
They were pushed back by police and the protest continued peacefully until midnight, when riot police started firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
About 3,000 demonstrators briefly dispersed, but later resumed the protest.
An adviser to Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said that 39 police officers and 30 protesters were hospitalized.
An Agence France-Presse saw ambulances evacuate dozens of injured demonstrators.
“Protesters demand snap parliamentary polls and the resignation of parliament speaker and the interior minister,” said Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of the opposition European Georgia party.
“We will achieve these demands through peaceful protests,” Ugulava added.
Demonstrations broke out on Thursday afternoon in front of the Georgian parliament, over Gavrilov’s address to an annual meeting of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) — a forum of lawmakers from predominantly Orthodox countries.
The Russian MP’s presence in fiercely pro-Western Georgia’s parliament prompted outrage in the ex-Soviet nation, which in 2008 fought and lost a brief, but bloody war with Moscow over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
A group of Georgian opposition lawmakers demanded the Russian delegation leave the chamber.
Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili — widely believed to be calling the shots in Georgia as the leader of his ruling Georgian Dream party — said in a statement he “fully shares the sincere outrage of the Georgian citizens.”
“It is unacceptable that a representative of the occupier country chairs a forum in the Georgian parliament,” the tycoon said.
He added he had told speaker Kobakhidze to “immediately suspend” the IAO session.
In a statement, the US embassy in Tbilisi urged “all sides to remain calm, show restraint and act within the framework of the constitution at all times.”
It said it understood “the hurt that many people feel” in Georgia.
Georgia and its Soviet-era master Russia have long been at loggerheads over Tbilisi’s bid to join the EU and NATO, with the spiraling confrontation culminating in a full-out war on Aug. 8, 2008.
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