November 28, 2019 / 9:22 AM / 11 days ago

Police in Georgia prevent opposition activists from picketing parliament

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian police erected steel fences around the parliament and government buildings on Thursday to prevent dozens of opposition activists from picketing the area in a dispute over electoral reform.

The activists have been protesting for two weeks to demand that a planned reform of the election system be implemented now and not delayed until 2024. They say the delay favours the ruling Georgian Dream party.

The protesters had planned to stop lawmakers entering parliament for Thursday’s session, but police erected the barriers overnight and hundreds of officers guarded the site, in the centre of the capital Tbilisi.

“The government has an obligation to every citizen, and our obligation is not to give anyone the right, despite repeatedly destructive actions, to try to block the state,” Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia told a government meeting.

The opposition said the barricades showed the government feared the demonstrators.

“What you see here is the face of the current government, a frightened government in agony,” Zaal Udumashvili, one of the leaders of the opposition United National Movement, told Reuters, commenting on the newly erected barricades.

“The central district of Tbilisi is almost completely paralysed and blocked by steel fences so that Ivanishvili does not hear the protest of several hundred people,” he said.

Bidzina Ivanishivili is the leader of the ruling party leader, a former prime minister and also Georgia’s richest man. His critics say he is the real ruler of the ex-Soviet republic.

Police have twice used water cannon this month to scatter the protesters outside parliament and have arrested dozens.

The protesters want to accelerate the implementation of an election system fully based on proportional representation.

Almost half of Georgia’s current lawmakers were elected not from party lists but in single-mandate constituencies, mostly representing the ruling party, in power since 2012.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Gareth Jones

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