TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia’s parliament suspended its work for four hours on Thursday after a foul-smelling substance was sprayed in the chamber in what the speaker described as a “chemical attack”.
A civil protest movement said it had smuggled a veterinary antiseptic liquid into parliament to disrupt proceedings before a vote on the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court whom the opposition reject as pro-government.
“We wanted to show that our parliament stinks,” said Nodar Rukhadze, a leader of #Shame, a movement aligned with protesters seeking a switch to fully proportional representation in an electoral system that also includes single-seat constituencies.
The change was scheduled for 2024 but the opposition is demanding it be brought forward, saying the rules benefit the Georgian Dream party, in power since 2012.
Some members of parliament felt sick after inhaling the substance and police and forensic experts were called in.
No one was seriously hurt but, with parliamentary speaker Archil Talakvadze referring to a chemical attack, police opened an investigation.
After the delay, parliament approved 14 of the 20 candidates to the Supreme Court.
In the latest in a month of protests in the former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people, police detained 16 people among a crowd protesting outside parliament and shouting “Shame!” and “Slaves!” at lawmakers arriving by car.
Giorgi Vashadze, leader of the opposition New Georgia party, was among those detained for disobedience and hooliganism.
WAVE OF PROTESTS
Police have twice used water cannon this month to disperse protesters outside parliament, have arrested dozens and erected steel fences around the parliament and government buildings last week.
The opposition says some of the nominees to the Supreme Court presided over politically motivated cases or are not up to the job.
“Slaves ... have been returned to their positions today,” Levan Gogichaishvili, said an opposition lawmaker who recently left the ruling party.
Separately, parliament stripped opposition lawmaker Nika Melia of his parliamentary mandate.
Melia was investigated in a case related to the bankruptcy of Cartu Bank, owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the ruling party who is said by opponents to run the South Caucasus country behind the scenes. Ivanishvili has denied this.
Georgia has been widely praised for establishing democratic institutions in the post-Soviet era, but human rights watchdogs criticize the current government over a lack of progress on judicial reform and for putting pressure on independent media.
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