Georgian lawmakers walk out to protest police crackdown

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People react while listening to a speaker during a protest as opposition demonstrators gather in front of the Georgian Parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, Monday, June 24, 2019. Demonstrators have returned to parliament for daily rallies, demanding the release of detained protesters, the ouster of the nation’s interior minister and changes in the electoral law to have legislators chosen fully proportionally rather than the current mix of party-list and single-mandate representatives. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

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TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Opposition lawmakers walked out of Georgia’s parliament Tuesday after the ruling party ignored demands for the interior minister’s resignation over a violent crackdown on protesters.

Throngs of protesters tried to break into parliament last Thursday, vexed by a Russian lawmaker taking the speaker’s seat during an international meeting.

Police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets. More than 240 people were injured. Large demonstrations have been held in front of the parliament every night since then.

Several thousand people gathered Tuesday night, angered by the announcement Niki Melia, a leader of the opposition National Movement party, was charged with organizing group violence. A conviction on the charge carries a possible prison sentence of up to nine years.

Protesters see the ruling party as being overly friendly to Moscow. The opposition lawmakers walked out of the parliament session after the ruling Georgian Dream party refused to consider the minister’s ouster.

The showdown reflects long-standing anger against Russia, which routed Georgia in a brief 2008 war and maintains a military presence in Georgia’s two breakaway provinces.

The ruling party has accepted one opposition demand, agreeing to hold the next parliamentary election based entirely on a proportionate system.

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