Georgia police disperse opposition protest

Injuries reported as authorities move in with tear gas and truncheons to break up demonstration.

    Georgian riot police have forcibly dispersed several hundred opposition protesters from outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

    The protesters, part of a larger group, had gathered in the early hours of Thursday demanding the resignation of Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president.

    Several thousand people had marched on parliament earlier, accusing Saakashvili of authoritarianism and vowing to stop a showpiece military parade to mark Georgia's Independence Day.

    But only 300 remained outside the parliament in the early hours of Thursday when police moved in, using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse the group.

    Emergency workers were tending to several people with blood on their faces, according to a reported from the Reuters news agency who was at the scene.

    Shota Utiashvili, the Georgian interior ministry spokesman, said a total of 19 people - police and protesters - were hospitalised with minor injuries.

    Nino Burjanadze, who leads the Georgian opposition party Democratic Movement, said the number of injured people was a result of police actions.

    "There a lot of injured people because the authorities conducted ... a punitive operation. It was not an action aimed at as they say to ‘free the square,’ it was purely a punitive operation," she said.

    According to Utiashvili, a policeman died in hospital after being hit by a vehicle in a convoy of cars rushing Burjanadze away from the scene, where riot police used teargas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.

    Utiashvili said that 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 police officer who later died later at hospital.

    There was no suggestion that Burjanadze or her spouse were behind the wheel of the vehicle in question.

    Nona Gaprindashvili, an opposition leader, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that dozens of demonstrators were arrested, but there were no immediate official figures.

    Opponents accuse pro-Western Saakashvili of monopolising power since the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that ousted the post-Soviet old guard in the Caucasus state, where pipelines carry Caspian oil to the West.

    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.

    Georgia celebrates its independence day on Thursday.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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