Demonstrations in Tbilisi have turned into an open confrontation between protesters and Georgian riot police, as a result of which dozens of people were hospitalized.
Several thousand demonstrators, together with opposition representatives, gathered in Tbilisi downtown yesterday evening and tried to storm the parliament building. Local media reported that the policy used tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators.
According to the Georgian Health Ministry, 52 people were injured in the protests, including 38 police officers.
Demonstrations followed the participation of Russian State Duma member Sergey Gavrilov and other Russian delegates in the 26th session of the General Assembly of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) in Tbilisi. Yesterday morning, Gavrilov opened the session as the IAO president. Opposition Georgian parliament members condemned Gavrilov for addressing the delegates while sitting down in a chair of the parliament chairperson. Opposition representatives then picketed the rostrum and the chair of the parliament speaker and did not allow the session to continue. They accused Gavrilov of his supposed participation in the War in Abkhazia, which he refuted.
A decision was made later to finish the session, and for the Russian delegation to leave. Representatives of the ruling party "Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia" said that they did not know that Gavrilov would open the session and think that the protocol was broken.
Secretary General of the Georgian Dream ruling party Kakha Kaladze said that holding the assembly as it was held was unacceptable and the organisers will have to provide detailed explanations as to why it has happened.
The protesters called for the resignation of Georgian Interior Minister and the head of the Parliament. The radical activists attempted to storm the Parliament building, prompting police to introduce crowd control measures.
Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia has called on thousands of demonstrators storming the parliament building in Tbilisi, to submit to the police."First of all, I call upon every citizen standing there and maybe expressing a fair protest, to submit to police orders. What is happening can be described as a storming of government facilities," TASS cited Gakharia as saying.
Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said the situation outside the parliament had been "provoked by opposition forces."
Chairman of the Georgian opposition United National Movement party, formed by former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Grigol Vashadze called on supporters to continue protests in central Tbilisi later on Friday. Saakashvili, being in Ukraine, has expressed his support for the protesters. On Facebook, Saakashvili called on police officers to disobey their orders and "go over to the side of the people."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in a statement that Moscow was outraged by the actions of what he called radical Georgian political forces whom he accused of propagating anti-Russian sentiment.
"We express our indignation at the actions of representatives of Georgia’s radical political forces, who took an important international forum that unites the world’s Orthodox states and used it to splash out their own anti-Russian sentiment,"the diplomat stressed.
Karasin added Russia would keep trying to normalize relations with Georgia.