Government protests turn violent in Georgia
TBILISI, Georgia – Riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon Wednesday to break up demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Mikhail Saakashvili. The pro-Western leader declared a state of emergency and banned all news broadcasts except state-controlled television.
Saakashvili, a U.S. ally who has tried to integrate Georgia with the West, also expelled three Russian diplomats and accused Moscow of fomenting the protests, which began last week. He now faces the worst political crisis of his four years in office in this former Soviet republic, where a low-level tug-of-war between Russia and the West is being played out.
There has been growing disillusion with Saakashvili among critics who say he has not moved fast enough to spread growing wealth. Opponents accuse him of sidestepping the rule of law, creating a system marked by violations of property rights, a muzzled media and political arrests.
In the clashes Wednesday, tear gas enveloped parliament after riot police advanced toward the crowd, pushing people back with shields and beating some with truncheons. Demonstrators retreated down Tbilisi’s main avenue suffering from tear gas fired by police from the beds of pickup trucks.
Scattered fistfights broke out between uniformed police and protesters.
Saakashvili later declared a state of emergency in the capital. The measure was then extended to the entire country.