Georgia jails opposition protesters

Tbilisi (AFP) –


A court in Georgia on Thursday jailed 10 opposition demonstrators for terms ranging from four to 13 days for "disobeying police orders" during protests which were dispersed with water cannon.

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters this week demanded snap polls after the ruling party in parliament failed to enact promised reforms.

The 10 defendants had been arrested Monday at a peaceful protest outside parliament.

Twenty-five more await verdicts later Thursday from the Tbilisi city court.

In a separate case, the court ordered the pre-trial detention of prominent opposition activist Giorgi Rurua, who is a shareholder of the pro-opposition Mtavari TV channel.

Rurua has been charged with "illegal possession of firearms" which he accused police of planting in his car.

He could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Georgia's opposition said the crackdown was an attempt at frightening the protesters by powerful billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the majority Georgian Dream party accused of orchestrating the crisis.

"With these arrests, Ivanishvili tries to sow fear to stop the protest movement, but he gets an opposite result," said MP Nika Melia, a leader of Georgia's main opposition force United National Movement

"Popular anger is growing," she told AFP.

Melia is under house arrest over his role in anti-government protests over the summer.

Groups of protesters on Thursday symbolically locked the entrances to several government buildings with padlocks -- including the prime minister's office while he was leading a cabinet meeting.

The protests gripped Tbilisi after ruling party MPs last week voted down legislation to hold parliamentary elections next year under a new proportional voting system.

Ivanishvili pledged to carry out a "large-scale political reform" following a summer of protests that saw 240 people injured in a police crackdown.

In the biggest anti-government protest in years, more than 20,000 demonstrators rallied Sunday outside the parliament building and some protesters who attempted to block building entrances were dispersed on Monday.