Georgian police use water cannon on protesters

Tbilisi (AFP) –


Police in Georgia used water cannon on Tuesday to disperse demonstrators who pressed ahead with anti-government rallies despite a new police crackdown and the arrest of protesters.

On Monday, up to 20,000 opposition supporters rallied in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, urging the government to resign and calling for new legislative elections.

Braving sub-zero temperatures, hundreds of protesters stayed outside parliament overnight, blocking all four entrances and threatening to prevent lawmakers from entering the building.

On Tuesday morning, riot police used water cannon to disperse the crowd.

In the early hours of Tuesday, police also arrested several protesters and briefly detained prominent opposition MPs.

The latest demonstrations broke out two weeks ago after the ruling party voted down legislation to hold parliamentary elections next year under a new proportional voting system.

Opposition parties have called the rallies after forming a rare united front against the ruling Georgian Dream party led by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is accused of orchestrating the bill's failure.

Protesters say the current voting system unfairly favours the ruling party.

Georgian Dream won nearly 77 percent of seats in the 2016 parliamentary election despite garnering only 48.7 percent of the vote.

Ivanishvili had promised "large-scale political reform" following a summer of protests that saw 240 people injured in a police crackdown.

Georgian Dream has ruled out early polls.

On Monday, it also rejected the opposition's compromise proposal of legislative amendments that would create a level playing field for all the political forces in the tiny Black Sea nation.

Last week, riot police also used water cannon to disperse protesters and arrested several dozen people outside parliament.

In power since 2012, the ruling party has seen its popularity plummet amid widespread discontent over economic stagnation and perceived backsliding on its commitment to democracy.