Georgia’s president blames Russia over violent protests
The president of Georgia has accused Russia of meddling in its internal affairs and stirring anger that led to protesters attempting to storm the Georgian parliament on Thursday.
Thousands of people tried to storm the parliament in the capital, Tbilisi, Thursday evening, protesting a visit from Sergey Gavrilov, a member of the Russian Communist Party.
Following the chaotic demonstrations, President Salome Zourabichvili wrote on Facebook late Thursday: “Russia is our enemy and occupier. Today, the Fifth Column orchestrated by Russia might become more dangerous than open aggression.”
Zourabichvili described the events in parliament as “humiliating the country and insulting its dignity,” but added that “in no case does this justify the artificially stirred wave of anti-state actions aimed at storming the parliament and overthrowing the authorities.”
On Friday, Moscow expressed its “extreme disapproval” over the protests, which it labeled a “Russophobic provocation.”
“One certainly can’t help being extremely concerned over the fact that there were aggressive outpourings directed at Russian citizens,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call.
According to Russian state news agency TASS, Gavrilov opened a session of the assembly at the Georgian parliament building and infuriated Georgian opposition deputies by sitting in the speaker’s chair. Reuters reported that the lawmaker also addressed delegates in Russian, rather than the local language.
Members of the opposition rushed the podium in protest. Gavrilov told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that he was doused with water by protesting Georgian deputies.
“They broke into the hall, seized the rostrum and my seat,” he said. “We had a break, they started looking for me, tearing up documents, pouring water on me … showing portraits of Putin.”
As protesters outside tried to enter the parliament, police used tear gas to disperse them, CNN witnessed. Some protesters appeared bloodied from skirmishes with law enforcement, while others had taken official shields and riot gear from the police.
Georgia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and in recent years has struggled with tensions with Russia over Moscow’s support for its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Gavrilov told RIA-Novosti that he believed Georgian protesters demanded his removal because of his alleged participation in the separatist conflict in Abkhazia in the early 1990s. A member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gavrilov has said he never participated in any armed conflicts.
Tensions flared between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 over a Russian-backed separatist movement in the province of South Ossetia, when then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili sent troops to regain control over the self-proclaimed autonomous region. Russia responded by moving tanks and soldiers through South Ossetia and advancing farther into Georgian territory.
When the fighting ended, Russia’s military pulled back only as far as South Ossetia, which it sees as an independent state.
CNN’s Olga Pavlova and Warda Al-Jawahiry contributed to this report.