‘Go home, occupiers’ Anti-Russian protest erupts in Tbilisi, after Russian delegation addresses Georgian Parliament
What is going on? An opposition protest
Where is it happening? Outside the Georgian Parliament building in Tbilisi
How big is the crowd? It peaked at roughly 1,000 people
What are the protesters' demands? The resignation of the Parliament's speaker and the heads of Georgia's Interior Ministry and State Security Service
Why are Georgians protesting? Russian State Duma deputy Sergey Gavrilov addressed a session of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy, sitting in the chair of the parliament's speaker and speaking in Russian
The television station Rustavi-2 reports that police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd of protesters, causing multiple severe injuries. According to the Russian news service Interfax, several dozen people have been injured in clashes with the police.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has responded to ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who called on police officers to join the demonstrators, telling reporters, “It's totally unacceptable for a citizen of another country to call from abroad on the police to disobey orders.” Zourabichvili says the “destructive” opposition forces guilty of provoking violence outside the Parliament building are “fulfilling Moscow's plan.”
Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze told reporters, “In Georgia, any group of people has the right to protest. In this case, I want to repeat that it was a fair protest, but over the past two hours we've been watching, there's been violence and an attempt by the aggressive group United National Movement to pull Georgia from the legal framework that was created once and for all in this country.”
The U.S. embassy in Georgia has called on demonstrators and police to abide by the country's laws, saying in a press statement, “We are closely monitoring the events this evening in Tbilisi, outside the Georgian Parliament building. We understand the frustrations that many people are feeling today, and we call on all sides to remain calm, exercise restraint, and act only within the framework of the Constitution.”
Political expert Ekaterina Nikiforova, who lives in Georgia, told Meduza that the storming of the Parliament in Tbilisi is the “result of a conflict between the authorities and the opposition that has continued for more than a year.” “At the same time, the Russian question is one of the most sensitive for Georgians,” Nikiforova explains. “It's not surprising that Russian State Duma deputy Gavrilov sitting in the Georgian Parliament speaker's chair and his speech so enraged not only the activists, but also ordinary citizens. The protest will definitively end with the resignation of Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze. He will be blamed, although he unlikely has anything to do with this ‘the Russian deputy and the chair’ incident — especially considering the fact that he was on a visit to Azerbaijan during the whole thing. His might not be the only resignation.”
Russian State Duma deputy Sergey Gavrilov, whose speech to the Georgian Parliament sparked Thursday's protests, told the website RBC, “Today we have witnessed extremist activity and demonstrations against the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy, and against parliamentary dialogue on the basis of Orthodox values. We saw dozens of people who came out with pre-prepared signs against Russia, its president, and Orthodoxy.”
Meduza's correspondent on the ground in Tbilisi, Maria Latsinskaya, reports that there are Georgian nationalists and supporters for former President Mikheil Saakashvili among the demonstrators. Latsinskaya says one of the protesters asked her if she is Russian. When she nodded, the person shouted, “Get out of here!” Other demonstrators then came to Latsinskaya's defense.
According to Latsinskaya, people in civilian clothes later started collecting the police shields grabbed and passed around by protesters, moving them away from the crowd.
Following the unrest in Tbilisi, Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has accused Georgian state officials of violating the norms of hosting international events. “They could neither provide security as the event, nor protect the Russian delegation from attacks and threats,” Volodin told the news agency Interfax.