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Putin suspends Russian flights to Georgia amid escalating tension

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Putin suspends Russian flights to Georgia amid escalating tension
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REUTERS/Marika Kochiashvili
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Putin has ordered a temporary ban on passenger flights from Russia to Georgia, said the Kremlin on Friday amid rising tensions between the two countries triggered by the visit of a Russian lawmaker.

The suspension of flights would start on July 8 and would be to "protect people" from what the Kremlin called "criminal actions".

Putin also recommended Russian travel agencies suspend tours to Georgia and ordered the government to bring back any Russian tourists vacationing there. Around one million Russian tourists holiday in Georgia every year.

Earlier on Friday, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili suggested a "fifth column" loyal to Moscow was responsible for the unrest, which Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev dismissed as a distortion of reality.

Violent unrest flared 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.

People took to the streets again on Friday in a more peaceful setting. Activists took the floor to demand change within the country.

The speaker of parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, resigned earlier on Friday, satisfying one of the protesters' demands.

A coalition of opposition parties is demanding the interior minister's resignation as well, the release of detained prisoners, and holding an early parliamentary election.

Russian influence in the small Caucasus nation remains a sensitive subject.

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