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Tbilisi protests

May 26, 2011

Georgian riot police have clashed with protesters demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The demonstrations were meant to block an Independence Day parade in the capital Tbilisi.

Georgian opposition supporters
Demonstrations were authorized until midnightImage: picture alliance/dpa

Riot police used teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse protesters early on Thursday after mass demonstrations in Tbilisi against President Saakashvili. The interior ministry said two people were killed and at least 37 people were in hospital with minor injuries.

Interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said a policeman and a protester were killed after being hit by vehicles in a convoy of cars driving away from the protest. He said one car was carrying opposition leader Nino Burjanadze, a charge she denied.

"Burjanadze and her husband were rushing to leave the scene in a convoy of five jeeps. One of the vehicles from their convoy hit a policemen who later died in hospital," Utiashvili said.

Thousands of riot police went in after midnight - after the protesters' permit had expired - detaining several dozen people, many of whom were seen with blood on their faces.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the crackdown in a statement on Thursday, calling for police who beat protesters "excessively" to be held to account.

"Even if the Tbilisi demonstration was unauthorized [after midnight], nothing can justify the beating of largely peaceful demonstrators," said Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at HRW.

Independence Day parade

Georgian people take part in an opposition rally in Tbilisi
Thousands turned up to protest against SaakashviliImage: picture alliance/dpa

The demonstrators accused the pro-Western Saakashvili of monopolizing power since the 2003 Rose Revolution that ousted the post-Soviet old guard in the Caucasus state, where pipelines carry oil from the Caspian Sea to the West.

"The people of Georgia seek nothing more than freedom to determine their own future, and for too long their wishes have been swept to one side by President Saakashvili's iron-fisted authoritarian rule," opposition leader Burjanadze said in a statement before the protest.

"He has spent millions of dollars in the West portraying himself as a democratic leader when in fact he has tried to crush any domestic opposition to his tyranny."

About 5,000 people gathered for the protest and several hundred refused to disperse to make way for an Independence Day military parade, as demanded by local authorities.

Weakened by losing a brief war with Russia in August 2008, Saakashvili has since reasserted control. He is due to step down as president in 2013 when his term ends.

Author: Gabriel Borrud (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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