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Georgian Protesters To Stand Trial After Clashes With Police Near Parliament


Riot police disperse opposition supporters during a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi on November 18.
Riot police disperse opposition supporters during a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi on November 18.

TBILISI -- A Tbilisi court will try 37 people who were detained while protesting at Georgia’s parliament on charges of disobeying police and for hooliganism, their lawyer, Georgi Oniani, has said.

An Interior Ministry statement the previous day said that all entrances to the previously blocked parliamentary building had been cleared "of artificially created barriers."

"The legislative body may function without any obstruction," the statement read.

Police were shown using water cannons the previous day on demonstrators who had assembled for the fourth consecutive day to protest parliament's rejection of constitutional amendments on the transition to a proportional electoral system.

The violence broke as hundreds of demonstrators shouting "Long live Georgia!" gathered in four places near parliament when riot police moved in.

Georgian Police Force Protesters Back From Parliament
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Live broadcasts from the scene showed demonstrators huddled in large groups as they were sprayed with water.

The move appeared to have little immediate effect, as large groups of protesters continued to face off with riot police outside the parliament building as dark fell.

Six people were injured during the clearance operation, including two police officers, the ministry added.

Earlier in the day, the ministry said in a statement that the rally "has gone beyond the law."

PHOTO GALLERY: Water Cannons Used Against Protesters (click for gallery)

Concern that the 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" over the snap elections.

Changing the system from a mixed system to a proportional one from 2020 was one of the demands of thousands of demonstrators who rallied for weeks in Tbilisi in June and July.

The legislature currently has proportional representation for about half of the body's seats.

Opposition parties say the current electoral system unfairly favors the ruling Georgian Dream party.

The Georgian Dream party, including its billionaire founder and leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, backed the accelerated reforms, but the measure still failed to pass.

That prompted some lawmakers, including deputy speaker Tamar Khangoshvili, to resign from the party.

Georgian Opposition Demonstrates For Election Reform
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Nonetheless, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, who is also the Georgian Dream general secretary, said voters should wait to voice their opinions at the ballot box.

"It's less than a year before an election. Accordingly, we are no longer going to consider any new initiative in connection with the election system. Elections will be held in constitutional terms, with the highest democratic standard and with a high inclusion of society," he said.

"Therefore, we urge opponents to prepare for the elections and not to blame the lack of popular support for the electoral system," the former international soccer star added.

The 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).

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