Georgia activists try to padlock state buildings as protest spreads

TBILISI (Reuters) - Opposition activists in Georgia tried to shut state buildings with padlocks and chains in the capital and other cities across the country, as protests spread demanding an early parliamentary election.

Dozens of opposition activists tried to put locks on entrances to several buildings in the capital. Reuters saw two protesters being detained by police outside the State Security Service in Tbilisi.

Protests also took place in the cities of Mtskheta, Zugdidi, Poti, Telavi and Ozurgeti, with protesters putting locks on the gates of local municipalities and other state agencies.

“We won’t give officials an opportunity to work,” a protester in Ozurgeti said in a report by independent Mtavari TV.

The protests began last week after parliament failed to approve a planned electoral reform. The activists demand a switch to fully proportional representation from a system that includes single-seat constituencies, which they say entrenches ruling party candidates.

Georgia, a small former Soviet state in the Caucasus mountains, aims to integrate more closely with the West. Its domestic politics have long been volatile, overshadowed by a strained relationship with Russia, which has backed secessionist rebels since the 1990s and invaded in 2008.

Earlier this week, police used water cannon to scatter protesters outside parliament and unblock entrances to the building, arresting 37 people. Detained protesters have been sentenced to terms ranging from four to 13 days, in trials which the opposition called politically motivated.

The opposition plans to hold a big rally on Monday in Tbilisi.

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on Tuesday blocking entrances to state institutions was illegal.

“Freedom of expression in the country is fully protected by law, but in case of illegal blocking of the state institutions, the police will act within the law,” Gakharia told reporters.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Peter Graff