Georgia begins day in a state of emergency

A state of emergency will remain in place in Georgia for the next 15 days, following clashes on Wednesday. Independent TV and radio news have been suspended.

It was the worst violence in Tbilisi since the early 1990s. Hundreds of riot police descended on a square outside Georgia's Parliament building to disperse opposition supporters who'd been camped there since Friday. 

More than 500 people needed hospital treatment in the ensuing violence.

Protesters and police clash in Tbilisi
Protesters and police clash in Tbilisi

The Mayor's Office had ordered officers to move a small crowd off the road and onto the pavement. 

Tbilisi Mayor Georgy Ugulava said traffic in the city has been paralysed by the protest, with schools and kindergartens unable to function. 

“The whole city has been frustrated by the rally, and what we want is to return the capital to its normal life,” Mr Ugulava said.

When police officers failed to get the demonstrators off the road, masked Interior Ministry troops moved in. 

Minutes later the sting of tear gas was everywhere, and water cannons scattered demonstrators left and right.

Russia Today's own correspondent Ekaterina Azarova and cameraman Evgeny Litovko, were caught up in the police crackdown. They were conducting a live television broadcast when special forces began to spray tear gas, as a result of which our team suffered tear-gas poisoning.

After this, they were hit by rubber bullets but the crew did not need hospitalisation and is still following the developments.

To watch RT’s coverage of the events, please follow the link.

Two hours later, protestors regrouped in a park across the river Kura, joined by thousands of Tbilisi residents appalled at the violence.

The rally was continuing peacefully there when to the horror of the crowd riot police were spotted at one end of the park. They opened fire with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon immediately. The crowd surged to the other end of the park only to be confronted by another squad of police at the other end.

Georgia's highest clergyman has condemned the actions of police. Patriarch Ilya II of All Georgia says the use of force against the opposition is ‘unacceptable’.  He called on the two sides to start talking to each other.

Russia accused

President Saakashvili, whose resignation the protesters had been demanding, addressed the nation in the evening. He downplayed the day's events, saying similar happens in Britain, France and America. 

He then pointed the finger at Russia.

The President said Russia had 'great experience' in destabilising other countries, but said it had 'no chance' of succeeding in Georgia.

“While Russia has practically annexed Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region – to allow massive clashes in Georgia is to threaten its existence. The time for demonstrations and counter demonstrations is over. We will allow no more violence,” Mr Saakashvili said.  

Shortly after the speech, police entered opposition-friendly TV station Imedi TV's headquarters live on air. Suddenly, the transmission was terminated.

Mikhail Saakashvili addressing the nation
Mikhail Saakashvili addressing the nation

Economic Development Minister Georgy Arveladze said a state of emergency has been declared.

 “Information will only be spread through Georgian public TV and Radio. The decree has been published,” Mr Arveladze said.

International reaction

The Kremlin has labelled President Saakashvili’s accusations and the expulsion of Russian diplomats as 'anti-Russian hysteria'.

Moscow says Saakashvili's talk of human rights doesn't square up with the actions of the police on the streets of Tbilisi.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says it will find an adequate response to the removal of Russian diplomats by Georgia, signalling the possibility of a tit-for-tat expulsion.

It has urged Tbilisi against taking what it calls 'destructive steps'.

Georgian Ombudsman, Sozar Subari, has called the security crackdown on protesters unconstitutional. He also said that the country ‘is ruled not by laws, but according to the wishes of certain individuals.’  He also said that he witnessed people lying on the ground being beaten.

“I tried to stop them, but was severely beaten. What's more they did it deliberately, since those who did it knew that I am Georgia’s Public Defender. But I have no regrets – some people have had worse,” Mr Subari said.

Governments around the world have also been reacting to events in Tbilisi.

The U.S. State Department said that political differences in the country should be worked out in a peaceful way.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said Georgia had a robust political system, and the dispute “should be worked out within the confines of that political system”.

The European Union says it hopes a solution will be found through constitutional regulations.

Chairman of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), Miguel Moratinos, expressed concern over events, calling on the two sides to open talks based on democratic principles.