November 19, 2019 / 5:13 PM / 18 days ago

Opposition in Georgia vows further anti-government protests

FILE PHOTO: Riot police move to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the government demanding an early parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia November 18, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia’s opposition plans further anti-government protests and will demand an early parliamentary election, its leaders said on Tuesday, a day after police dispersed demonstrators in the capital Tbilisi.

Police used water cannon to scatter the protesters outside parliament on Monday and unblocked entrances to the building, arresting 37 people. But hundreds of protesters re-assembled in front of parliament on Tuesday evening.

“Our protest will continue until the resolution of the crisis that Ivanishvili created in the country,” David Bakradze, leader of the European Georgia party, referring to ruling party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch who critics accuse of ruling the former Soviet republic from behind the scenes.

The protests began last week after parliament failed to approve a planned electoral reform - a move to full proportional voting from the mixed system at present.

The switch was scheduled to happen in 2024, but the opposition demanded it be brought forward, saying the system unfairly favours the Georgian Dream party, which has ruled since 2012.

Bakradze said the opposition’s actions would be non-violent, although he did not rule out blocking entrances to parliament again next week.

Protesters also demanded the release of the 37 arrested for blocking parliament on Monday. A Tbilisi city court postponed hearings on their cases.

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on Tuesday blocking entrances to parliament was illegal. “Freedom of expression in the country is fully protected by law, but in case of illegal blocking of the state institutions, the police will act within the law...,” Gakharia told reporters.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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