Georgian Police Use Water Cannons On Protesters In Tbilisi
By RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Current Time November 18, 2019
TBILISI -- Riot police in Tbilisi have used water cannons on protesters who were blocking the entrance to parliament and arrested several people demanding early elections.
The violence broke as hundreds of demonstrators were gathered for a fourth day on November 18 to protest parliament's rejection of constitutional amendments on the transition to a proportional electoral system when riot police moved in.
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.
Police detained 37 demonstrators, the Interior Ministry said.
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."
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.
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).
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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