Home / Armenia / Riot Police Disperse Georgia Opposition Protests. One Police Officer Dead (VIDEOS)

Riot Police Disperse Georgia Opposition Protests. One Police Officer Dead (VIDEOS)

Authorities in neighboring Georgia sent in riot police early Thursday as five days of opposition protests demanding the resignation of Western-backed President Mikheil Saakashvili ended violently, AFP reports.

A police officer was killed when a car allegedly carrying a protest organizer fled the rally and hit the officer as it sped away, Georgia’s interior ministry said.

According to Civil.ge, 19 police officers were injured and “there are wounded among the protestors although no figures were immediately available.”

Ranks of police moved in from both sides of the protest venue on Rustaveli Avenue and from nearby small streets just after midnight, firing rubber bullets and tear gas and using water cannon to disperse protesters armed with sticks and makeshift shields who were rallying outside the Georgian parliament.

Dozens of protesters, or even possibly more than hundred, were arrested although no exact figures were released yet by the authorities; the Interior Ministry said that those arrested were detained for resisting police, Civil.ge reported.

Several thousand had marched on parliament on Wednesday, accusing Saakashvili of authoritarianism and vowing to thwart a showpiece military parade to mark Georgia’s Independence Day on Thursday.

But only around 300 remained amid heavy rain after the authorities warned that the demonstrations would not be authorised after midnight Wednesday before the planned parade.

A government statement accused protesters of acting “very aggressively” and “planning to violently resist the police”.

But some eyewitnesses said police beat detained protesters and protest leader Nino Burjanadze, who had promised a “revolution,” accused the authorities of a heavy-handed crackdown.

“We will continue our course and democracy will win in Georgia,” she told AFP.

The authorities had insisted that the high-profile Independence Day celebration would go ahead despite the protests.

“The parade is a popular celebration of Georgia’s independence. Provocations by an opposition political party must not hamper it,” senior governing party lawmaker Nugzar Tsiklauri told AFP.

Before police moved in, Western diplomats in Tbilisi said they supported the right to peaceful protest but expressed fears about potential confrontations.

“I’m concerned by indications that there are elements within those groups protesting who appear to be more interested in trying to force a violent confrontation than in peacefully protesting,” US ambassador John Bass said.

“It must end tonight or tomorrow morning. They have a right to rally, but not to hamper an official parade,” French ambassador Eric Fournier told AFP.

Turnout at the rally had remained small by Georgian standards but there were brief clashes Wednesday when angry demonstrators attacked passers-by whom they accused of being provocateurs.

The protesters, who complain of poverty and unemployment, blockaded a road outside the public television channel for several days before marching on parliament.

Several Georgian journalists reported that police physically assaulted them; some reported that their either video camera or memory card of photo camera was seized. A journalist from the Georgian news agency, InterPressNews, was arrested by the police; he was later released, Civil.ge reported.