Riot police in Georgia fired rubber bullets and tear gas Thursday at demonstrators who tried to storm parliament, furious that a Russian-speaking lawmaker from Moscow addressed lawmakers from the speaker’s chair.
Clashes between police and protesters continued into the evening, well past the end of the parliamentary session.
An adviser to Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said 39 policemen and 30 demonstrators were taken to the hospital.
Earlier, about 10,000 demonstrators broke through police barriers and made their way into the parliament building’s courtyard. They demanded Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze and several senior Cabinet members resign.
“It’s a big shame ... that the Georgian government has made it possible to see Russian occupants, enemy of this country, in the chair of the chairman of parliament,” opposition lawmaker Elene Khoshtaria said. “This is not acceptable for the Georgian public.”
Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 over the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Russia recognizes the republics as independent states.
Russian lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov was invited to speak as the head of the Russian delegation of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, a group that seeks closer ties between Christian Orthodox lawmakers.
Gavrilov began giving a speech from parliamentary speaker’s platform — in Russian — sparking an angry response.
The session did not resume after a break because of the turmoil in and outside the building and guards escorted Gavrilov back to his hotel.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi says the U.S. “Recognizes the hurt that many people feel today. We urge all sides to remain calm, show restraint, and act within the framework of the constitution at all times.”
Only Russia recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations. Russian soldiers, who the Kremlin calls peacekeepers, remain in both republics.
Many Georgians regard the Russians as occupiers and say the government is too weak in dealing with Moscow.