Published: Fri, June 21, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Georgians angry over Russian lawmaker's visit try to storm parliament

Georgians angry over Russian lawmaker's visit try to storm parliament

Demonstrators violently clashed with police, resulting in more than 200 injuries.

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Georgia and Russia traded blame on Friday for an outbreak of unrest in Tbilisi sparked by the visit of a Russian lawmaker as opposition parties tried to capitalize on public anger over the incident to press wider political demands.

'Georgian Dream has brought the Russian occupiers in and let them sit in the speaker's chair, ' Elene Khoshtaria, an opposition member of parliament, said.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili called Russian Federation "an enemy and occupier", saying Moscow had helped to stir the unrest.

In 2008, then-president Mikheil Saakashvili, in violation of a pre-existing agreement, launched a military operation against South Ossetia, which Georgia considers to be part of its territory, attacking Russian peacekeepers charged with maintaining security in the republic.

Georgia fought a five-day war with Russian Federation in 2008 that resulted in the two regions declaring their independence from Tbilisi with the Kremlin's backing.

The crowds were angry about the visit of a Russian delegation led by Sergei Gavrilov, a member of Russia's lower house of parliament, who was taking part in an event created to foster relations between Orthodox Christian lawmakers.

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Tensions flared when he addressed delegates from the seat of Georgia's parliamentary speaker. Despite the belligerent rhetoric of new president Salome Zourabichvili toward Moscow, Georgia and Russian Federation successfully engaged in trade and customs agreement negotiations in Geneva.

Gavrilov told a Moscow news conference on Friday he believed the protests had been pre-planned. However, soon non-parliamentary opposition, anti-occupation activists and ordinary citizens joined their sentiments and started gathering in front of the parliament building.

Mr Gavrilov was attending an assembly of MPs from Orthodox Christian countries.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the safety of Gavrilov and other members of the Russian delegation had been endangered and said Moscow was seriously concerned given how popular Georgia remains with Russian tourists.

The US embassy in Tbilisi said: "We understand the frustrations that many people are feeling today, and we call on all sides to remain calm, exercise restraint, and act only within the framework of the constitution".

After demonstrators were pushed away from the parliament, police tried to drive them away along Tbilisi's main avenue.

Georgia, crisscrossed by energy pipelines, hopes one day to join the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an ambition which has infuriated Moscow, the country's former Soviet overlord. "An outrageous mistake has taken a place that has placed the entire team under a blow", he said, noting that the organizers of the IAO "will have to apologize and explain the Georgian society what and why has happened".

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