Protesters in the Georgian capital Tbilisi have attacked prominent supporters of President Mikheil Saakashvili and forced him to change the venue of his annual address to the nation.
The city’s mayor Guigui Ougoulava and several politicians from the president’s party were assaulted outside the National Library where the speech was due to take place. The police did not intervene.
Saakashvili’s detractors accuse him of flouting human rights and stifling dissent. He had already been barred from making the address in parliament.
The president’s supporters point the finger at the ruling Georgian Dream coalition. Since his National Movement party lost parliamentary elections last October, he has been locked in a tense cohabitation with billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
“It is a direct violation of the Constitution of Georgia to prevent the president from addressing parliament and the people. And unfortunately this is all masterminded by the prime minister and his supporters,” said the parliament’s vice speaker Giorgy Baramidze.
Later it was announced that Saakashvili would make the speech from his office.
The long-standing pro-Western leader is due to stand down in October. His acceptance last year of his party going into opposition marked Georgia’s first peaceful transfer of power between rival parties since the collapse of the Soviet Union.