Several Injured in Police-Opposition Clashes in Georgia

georgiaprotests2TBILISI (Al Jazeera)–Dozens of protesters and police have clashed in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, as demonstrations calling for Mikheil Saakashvili, the country’s president, to resign turned violent.

The interior minstry said five officers were stabbed during the fighting on Thursday night, while the opposition said at least seven protesters had been beaten by the police.

Ekaterine Zguladze, the deputy interior minister, said anti-government protectors “armed with knives and sharp sticks, injured five officers, one of them seriously”.

Opposition groups dismissed the accusations and said policemen had set upon peaceful demonstrators wielding batons and injuring a number of people.

“It was a provocation by a group of policemen who started beating people,” Kakha Kukava, an opposition leader, said.

Sophio Jajanashvili, a spokeswoman for the opposition Georgia’s Way party, said: “At least seven protesters were beaten by the police, they were hospitalized with broken heads and legs.”

Television pictures showed several wounded protesters, one with blood streaming from his head.

Earlier, hundreds of demonstrators had marched through the center of Tbilisi and rallied outside parliament.

The clashes have sparked fears that protests, which have been continuing in the capital for seven weeks, are spiralling into widespread unrest.

Threats by activists to block the main highway and railway line have also deepened fears that violent confrontations could break out in the former Soviet republic.

The opposition are demanding the resignation of Saakashvili over his handling of last year’s conflict with Russia and claims his rule is becoming increasingly autocratic.

Critics say the 41-year-old leader has monopolized power since the 2003 Rose Revolution that swept him to power.

Demonstrators are planning to rally again on Friday in a bid to build momentum against the leader.

But Saakashvili has resisted calls to resign, and has pointed to the largely peaceful protests in the capital as a sign that democracy is maturing in Georgia.

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