Thousands of anti-government demonstrators have rallied in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, to renew demands for fresh elections in the wake of last month’s disputed parliamentary polls.
The governing Georgian Dream party led by the country’s richest man and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili narrowly won the October 31 poll that opposition parties denounced as rigged.
“We will fight till the end and won’t allow our country to be governed by an oligarch,” Gigi Ugulava, an opposition leader, told protesters on Saturday, referring to Ivanishvili.
According to official results, Georgian Dream won 48.23 percent of the vote, with the largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), taking 27.18 percent.
The opposition accuses Georgian Dream and its supporters of vote-buying, making threats against voters and observers, and of violations during the count.
Georgian Dream leaders have flatly denied the accusations of electoral fraud.
But eight opposition parties, including the UNM, have said they would boycott parliament.
Last Sunday, 45,000 protesters rallied outside parliament before marching towards the central election commission headquarters, threatening to blockade its entrances.
Riot police dispersed the protesters in the early hours of Monday by firing water cannon, leaving several people injured.
The opposition is demanding the resignation of Tamar Zhvania, head of the Central Election Commission, and a return to the polls.
“We will continue protests until our demand is met,” Nika Melia, a UNM leader, told the crowd, saying the October ballot was “stolen”.
Forty-year-old baker Nukri Archvadze told AFP news agency at the protest that, “Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream have staged a coup by rigging the elections”.
Critics say Ivanishvili, who does not hold a government post, runs the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people from behind the scenes, an accusation denied by Georgian Dream, which has governed for two consecutive terms.
The protest, held on the capital’s main Rustaveli Avenue, took place days before a planned visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on November 17-18.
“We will send this message to the US secretary of state that elections have been rigged,” Ugulava said.