Georgian protests: Two killed as police clear Tbilisi

Police fired tear gas at protesters

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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.

Analysis

It was clear from the outset that the protest on Wednesday would end in bloodshed.

About half of the people gathered on the steps of parliament were masked men armed with metal poles or heavy sticks. We saw some sharpening the ends of the sticks with knives.

The authorities told the protestors they would have to move at midnight to make way for Thursday's celebrations. The demonstrators refused and 2,000 riot police officers moved in, breaking up the crowd with tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.

The authorities' heavy-handed approach will be used by the president's critics to undermine his credibility but opposition leaders will see their credibility weakened even more.

One of those killed was run over by a jeep in the convoy taking away Nino Burdzhanadze, the leader of the protest movement. Many Georgians accuse her of whipping up violence to destabilise the country.

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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