Thousands Protest in Anger After Russian MP’s Speech

Thousands of protesters gathered in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi yesterday afternoon after a speech by a Russian MP inside the chamber.

Tensions escalated through the night as protestors attempted to enter the parliament. Riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas to prevent protestors from entering.

39 officers and 30 protesters were hospitalized due to the violence, reported an advisor to Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze. Two protestors reportedly lost their eyes due to rubber bullets.

The protests began after Sergei Gavrilov gave a speech at the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, a gathering of MPs from Orthodox Christian countries, from the parliament speaker’s chair.

Gavrilov addressed delegates in Russian, angering many politicians and Georgians who are against Russia’s illegal occupation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

When asked by journalists if he was uncomfortable with Russia’s occupation, Gavrilov replied: “I don’t have any discomfort, I’m very happy to be in my homeland.”

Russia occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia during a war in 2008. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, separatist conflicts raged in Abkhazia and South Ossetia following Georiga’s declaration of independence.

When Georgia attempted to reclaim South Ossetia in August 2008, Russian troops arrived and ousted Georgian forces from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Moscow continues to support the breakaway regions financially and militarily and recognizes both countries as independent states.

Because of this recent history, many Georgians are vehemently anti-Russian. The Russian delegation left Tbilisi following the remarks as protestors gathered in front of their hotel, throwing eggs.

After Gavrilov’s speech, a spontaneous protest formed outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, shutting down Rustaveli Avenue as the protest grew.

Carrying signs with slogans such as “20% of my country is occupied by Russia,” and “F**k off Russia,” protestors called for the resignation of Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Gakharia and head of the State Security Service Vakhtang Gomelauri for allowing Russian MPs into the Georgian parliament.

Around 10,000 protestors breached the police cordon outside parliament as the protests continued until sunrise.

Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze held a briefing at the ruling party headquarters at 4 AM admitting that “heavy mistakes” were made by allowing Russian politicians into parliament.

He condemned the violence, blaming opposition parties such as the United National Movement (UNM) for organizing “massive violence.”

Opposition parties argue that the government has lost legitimacy and moral authority: “whatever is happening today is an astonishing crime carried out by the state,” said Roman Gotsiridze, MP from UNM.

Protestors have now left Rustaveli Avenue and traffic is flowing as usual, but the situation remains tense.

Founder of the Georgian Labor Party Shalva Natelashvili told media yesterday that another protest will be organized on Friday: “I expect many more people will show tomorrow than today.”


By Amy Jones

Photo source - Reuters

21 June 2019 12:19