TBILISI -- After issuing a 30-minute ultimatum before dawn, Georgian police used water cannons to disperse protesters near parliament and detained several activists, hours after thousands assembled in the capital demanding electoral reforms.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement early on November 26 that 28 protesters were detained for "disobedience to police and hooliganism." Earlier reports said two members of the opposition United National Movement, Ako Minashvili and Gia Tevdoradze, were among those detained.
The Health Ministry said four people were injured, three of whom remain hospitalized. Local media report that a journalist from the Mtavari Alkhi TV channel, Vasil Dabrundashvili, was among the injured. It is not clear if he is among those still in the hospital.
Police now control the entrances to parliament, while dozens of demonstrators remain at the site, saying that their goal is to prevent lawmakers from entering the building.
The leader of the opposition New Georgia party, Giorgi Vashadze, said in a televised interview on November 26 that the ruling Georgian Dream party "is capable of holding a parliamentary session only by using the police."
"If the police cordon gives us a chance, we will enter parliament," Vashadze said.
Protesters gathered the previous day after the ruling Georgian Dream party refused to change the electoral system from a mixed to a proportional one beginning next year.
Supporters of about 20 opposition groups marched from Tbilisi's Republic Square to parliament, blocking traffic in Rustaveli Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare.
The protesters called on the government to step down and for early elections to be held, and vowed to prevent lawmakers from entering parliament, where a plenary session was scheduled for November 26.
On November 25, the ruling party's secretary-general, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, said after a party meeting that "the issue is closed and there will be no changes in the electoral system."
The status quo, according to the opposition, benefits the Georgian Dream party, which has been in power since 2012.
The matter has been a hot topic for weeks after a constitutional amendment on the transition to a proportional electoral system was rejected by parliament on November 14.
The reform was one of the demands of thousands of demonstrators who rallied for weeks in Tbilisi in June and July and then again in recent weeks.
One of the protests was violently dispersed by police on November 18 with 37 protesters arrested in the demonstration.
The legislature currently has proportional representation for about half of the body's seats, a system which opposition parties say unfairly favors the Georgian Dream party.
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Concern that the new protest could spill over into violence has risen among Western diplomats.
After 20,000 people rallied in Tbilisi on November 17, the United States and the European Union called on the Georgian government, political parties, and civil society to engage in a "calm and respectful dialogue."
An EU delegation to Georgia and the U.S. Embassy said in a joint statement on November 17 that they "recognize the deep disappointment of a wide segment of Georgian society at the failure of parliament to pass the constitutional amendments."
The halting of the transition to proportional elections "has increased mistrust and heightened tensions between the ruling party and other political parties and civil society," the statement said.
The vote has also prompted criticism from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).