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Georgian president blames Russia for stirring unrest in Tbilisi

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Georgian president blames Russia for stirring unrest in Tbilisi
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REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
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Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili called Russia "an enemy and occupier" whose "fifth column" was behind the violent unrest in the Georgian capital Tbilisi after police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to stop protesters from storming the parliament building on Thursday night.

Crowds were angry over the visit of Russian lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov, who was taking part in the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) — a body set up by the Greek parliament in 1993 to foster relationships between Christian Orthodox lawmakers.

Gavrilov, who is the president of the IAO's General Assembly, addressed delegates in Russian from the Georgian parliamentary speaker's seat on Thursday, which angered some who wish to keep Russia out of local politics.

"Russia is our enemy and occupier. The fifth column it manages may be more dangerous than open aggression," Zurabishvili posted on her Facebook page.

"Only Russia benefits from a split in the country and society and internal confrontation, and it's the most powerful weapon today."

Egor Kuroptev, head of the Georgian office for the pro-democracy organisation Free Russia Foundation, told Euronews' Good Morning Programme that the Georgian government should apologise for letting Gavrilov into parliament.

"They have to answer on what happened with the Russian delegation and why they let them in because they knew that reaction would be like this," he said.

Russian influence in Georgia remains a politically sensitive subject. The small country, a U.S. ally, fought and lost a short war against Moscow in 2008.

The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since, and Russia went on to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russian troops are now garrisoned.

Georgia, which is crisscrossed by energy pipelines, hopes to one day join the European Union and NATO. That ambition has angered Moscow, the country's former Soviet overlord.

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