Thousands flood streets in Tbilisi over Russian MP's speech | Eurasia Diary -

11 August, Tuesday

Thousands flood streets in Tbilisi over Russian MP's speech

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Protesters have attempted to storm Georgia's parliament during a mass rally against a speech inside the chamber by a Russian lawmaker.

Riot police stopped them from entering the building, reportedly using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Tensions flared up when Sergei Gavrilov addressed an assembly of MPs from Orthodox Christian countries from the seat of the speaker.

Russia and Georgia have fought over two breakaway Georgian regions.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia were occupied by Russia in 2008.

Moscow recognises them as independent states and Russian troops have remained there since.

Thursday's protests left 39 police officers and 30 protesters in hospital with injuries, according to an advisor to Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze quoted by the AFP news agency.

What caused the protests?

Mr Gavrilov was taking part in the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), a body set up by the Greek parliament in 1993 to foster relationships between Christian Orthodox lawmakers.

Opposition MPs in Georgia's pro-Western parliament called for protests in response to his decision to deliver a speech from the speaker's seat.

He addressed delegates in Russian, angering politicians and Georgians vehemently opposed to Moscow's presence in the country.

Calling for speaker Irakli Kobakhidze and other officials to resign, about 10,000 protesters breached the police cordon in the capital, Tbilisi, AFP reported.

Some were carrying EU flags and placards reading "Russia is an occupier".

Giga Bokeria, an opposition MP for the European Georgia party, told AFP the rally outside parliament was "a spontaneous protest by ordinary Georgians".

Inside parliament, opposition lawmakers blocked the presidium and demanded that the parliamentary speaker, interior minister and state security service chief all resign over the incident.

The session was suspended and Mr Gavrilov has reportedly left the country.

"That was a slap in the face of recent Georgian history," Elene Khoshtaria, an opposition member of parliament, said.

Why are there tensions between Georgia and Russia?

When Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, separatist conflicts erupted in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In August 2008, Georgia attempted to recapture South Ossetia, which it had fought a separatist war against in the 1990s.

Russia poured troops in, ousting Georgian forces from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Following a ceasefire, Russia withdrew most of its troops from undisputed parts of Georgia but still maintains a military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, recognising both as "independent" states.

Since then, diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia have been severed.

To the ire of Moscow, Georgia has ambitions to join the European Union and Nato.

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