Six Georgians have been arrested as demonstrators at Tbilisi airport protested against a flight arriving from Moscow, according to the local media
Dozens of Georgian protesters attempted to break through the police cordon around Tbilisi International Airport as it welcomed its first flight from Moscow in almost four years on Friday.
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 belonging to Russian airline Azimuth had some 90 passengers onboard. The trip came after Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted the air travel ban and visa regime with Georgia last week, which received a mixed reaction across the Caucasian country.
The now-inactive ban itself was imposed in response to a series of violent anti-Russian protests in Tbilisi in 2019 over a Russian MP’s participation in the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy.
In anticipation of the plane’s arrival, Georgian police ramped up security measures around the airport, with the interior ministry stating that only airport employees and mandatory travelers would be allowed inside. It also called on protesters to “maintain law and order.”
According to footage on social media, the Russian plane’s arrival attracted crowds of pro-opposition activists, with some of them holding banners saying, “You are not welcome,” as well as waving Georgian and EU flags.
Other videos appeared to show clashes between pro-Western activists and police officers, with one clip showing one protester being dragged away by law enforcement. According to local media outlets, the police have arrested at least six people in total, including several members of the Time Movement, an opposition party which played a major role in organizing the protest.
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Local reporters also swarmed Russian tourists at the airport, asking them whether they considered their country to be “an occupant” – perhaps in reference to Moscow’s friendly ties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke free from Georgia in the 1990s and were recognized by Russia as independent after the 2008 conflict between Moscow and Tbilisi.
Commenting on the protest, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili wrote on Twitter that “despite the opposition of the Georgian people, Russia has landed its unwelcome flight in Tbilisi.”
However, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze pointed out that Russia had lifted the air travel restrictions unilaterally, adding that Georgia “cannot do anything” about it and reiterating that Georgia would not impose sanctions on Russia as such a move “could be harmful to our country and people.”
May 19, 2023 at 09:12PM