Hundreds have taken to the streets in Georgia after police arrested several men who refused to accept parking fines. Rubber bullets and tear gas were used against the protesters as they tried to storm a police building.
Almost two dozen people were hospitalized in Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi on Sunday after clashes between rioters and police, local media reported.
The violent confrontations erupted following a spontaneous protest by local residents after police arrested several men who refused to accept their parking tickets.
As the riots continued overnight, police used tear gas and rubber bullets against hundreds of stone-throwing rioters. Many of the young protesters attempted to storm a police building and set fire to police cars on the streets of Batumi, the Rustavi-2 TV network reported.
Luka Pertaia, a journalist based in Georgia, posted a picture on Twitter that depicted the burning entrance of the Batumi police station.
Eleven police officers and 10 demonstrators were hospitalized with various injuries as well as symptoms of gas poisoning, the regional healthcare minister Zaal Mikeladze told journalists.
In an effort to calm down the worst riots Georgia has seen in decades, Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili said he ordered the arrested men be released from custody.
However, prior to traveling to Batumi, the interior minister said that all those involved in the violence would be punished.
"All those who prevent the enforcement of the law and the work of the law enforcement forces, all those people who put themselves above the law will be punished severely," Mgebrishvili said, adding: "All should know that we are equal in front of the law and take responsibility in front of the law equally."
Georgian opposition politicians said anger had been growing in Batumi over police issuing large fines for minor traffic offences.
Georgia had previously received praise from the international community for transforming its police force into one of the most disciplined law agencies in the post-Soviet region.
Batumi is Georgia's second largest city and its most popular tourist destination.
rs/rc (AP, AFP)