TBILISI (Reuters) - The Georgian parliament on Tuesday elected a ruling Georgia Dream Party candidate as its new speaker following the resignation of his predecessor after violent protests outside the building.
Archil Talakvadze was elected unanimously as opposition lawmakers left the session in protest after the ruling party refused to discuss the position of Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who they hold responsible for police using excessive force to break up the demonstration.
Protests broke out in front of the parliament building last week after Russian lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov addressed lawmakers from the speaker’s chair in Russian.
That unleashed simmering resentment among many Georgians, who feel angry and humiliated they have to maintain friendly ties with Moscow even though Russia briefly invaded their country in 2008 and still backs two breakaway regions of Georgia.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent crowds of protesters from storming the parliament. Hundreds of people were injured, some seriously, including losing eyes.
The protests have quickly developed into a double crisis pitting Moscow against Tbilisi and pitting the protesters in Georgia against their own government, which has for years tried to smooth over differences with Moscow.
Russia suspended flights to Georgia and said it was tightening controls on Georgian wine imports.
Protesters said they would continue rallying until Gakharia resigned.
Georgia’s prosecutor’s office on Tuesday appealed to the parliament with a proposal to consider stripping opposition lawmaker Nika Melia from parliamentary immunity and agreeing to his detention, the prosecutor general’s first deputy Mamuka Vasadze said in a statement.
He added that Melia, who was called to the prosecutor’s office on Wednesday, was suspected of organising violent actions by protesters, including attempts to storm the parliament building.
Melia said that the charges were “absurd” as the protest was peaceful. “I’m ready for this fight and not afraid of arrest,” he told the independent Rustavi-2 TV station.
The Interior Ministry is in the process of identifying those individuals who participated in violent actions during the protest last Thursday, Vasadze said.
Police detained 305 protesters last week, the majority of whom have been released, while 54 remain in detention.
Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ken Ferris