Georgian wrestling champions accused of extortion provoked a fight in parliament

It came to blows in the Georgian parliament when the opposition claimed Minister of the Interior Vano Merabishvili to resign amid allegations that the head of the ministry had provoked today’s night disorders in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

Riot police outfitted with masks and truncheons clashed early Friday with protesters who tried to block a main road in the Georgian capital in support of two wrestling champions who have been accused of extortion.

The protest, involving hundreds of fans of Georgia's favorite sport, quickly grew into a demonstration against the ruling authorities. Opposition leaders called on Georgians to continue the protest later Friday outside the parliament.

"All citizens, not just athletes, Tbilisi residents or not, must protect their dignity," said David Gamkrelidze, head of the "Right Opposition: New and Industrialists" parliamentary fraction.

"I have no illusions that there will be 50,000 people, but this protest is necessary so that the authorities can see that not all is going as they thought it would."

About 25 people were detained overnight on suspicion of organizing the unrest, said Guram Donadze, spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry.

The Supreme Court gave a sanction for the detention of Aleko Davitashvili, president of the Georgian Wrestling Federation, and a runner-up world champion, Georgy Revasishvili, on Thursday on charges of extorting US$8,000 (Ђ6,660) from a Greek businessman.

Among those detained were members of several opposition parties. Supporters of Grigola Rogava, a member of the National-Democratic Party of Georgia, said he was just standing outside the party's offices on Rustaveli Avenue when police stuffed him into a patrol car.

"This is a disgrace, we can't just let it go unanswered. Saakashvili's totalitarian regime has shown its face," said the party's president Buchiki Kardava.

Saakashvili, who was inaugurated president in 2004 after leading the country's Rose Revolution, has vowed to fight the widespread graft that had deeply impoverished Georgia during the reign of his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Merabishvili, the interior minister, said that the athletes would be treated like any other citizens, because "in Georgia all are equal before the law, all the more so if they are famous."

Photo: NTV

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