Europe

Georgian protests: Two killed as police clear Tbilisi

  • 26 May 2011
  • From the section Europe

The Georgian capital Tbilisi is tense after an overnight crackdown on anti-government protesters, during which a policeman and one other person died.

Both victims were killed by a speeding car, which President Mikheil Saakashvili said had been in a convoy carrying opposition leaders.

Nearly 40 people were also injured as riot police cleared protesters ahead of independence day events.

Celebrations went ahead on Thursday with a military parade.

Hundreds of opposition supporters have been protesting daily all week, demanding the president's resignation.

Protesters say the president has failed to tackle poverty and accuse him of authoritarian behaviour.

Speaking at the parade, Mr Saakashvili said every citizen had the right to freedom of expression but events of recent days had had "nothing to do with the postulates of freedom of speech".

'Silver revolution'

Police moved in on the protesters shortly after midnight, as heavy rain fell.

Backed by armoured cars firing water cannon, large numbers of riot police arrived from several directions.

Clashes broke out with some of the protesters who were armed with long sticks and makeshift shields.

The BBC's Damien McGuinness witnessed journalists and peaceful demonstrators being beaten by police.

Within about 30 minutes, the area around parliament had been cleared.

Police said 28 protesters and nine policemen had been treated for injuries.

Protests began on Saturday, when as many as 10,000 people demonstrated in central Tbilisi.

The movement has been dubbed the "silver revolution" by some, as many participants are older Georgians, struggling to cope with low pensions and rising food prices, our correspondent adds.

Poverty levels are relatively high in Georgia but the opposition is divided and lacks credibility while the Western-backed Mr Saakashvili retains popularity, he says.

The president came to power in 2004 after a popular uprising toppled his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze.

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