By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters rallied in the Georgian capital Tbilisi for the second day on Monday, some defying the start of the country’s coronavirus curfew, to back opposition calls for a re-run of the Oct. 31 parliamentary election they say was rigged.
There were no immediate reports of disturbances, after more than a dozen protesters were injured on Sunday by volleys of police water cannon outside the Central Election Commission (CEC) headquarters. Protesters were also targeted with tear gas, some witnesses and TV channels reported, but police denied it.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the continent’s biggest security and rights watchdog, urged the protesters to refrain from violence and Georgian authorities to respect freedoms of assembly and expression.
The CEC said the ruling Georgian Dream party won 48.23% of the vote on Oct. 31 with the largest opposition party United National Movement (UNM) taking 27.18%.
Eight opposition parties, including the UNM, rejected the official outcome and said they would boycott the parliament.
They accuse the ruling party and its supporters of vote buying, threatening some voters and local election observers and tampering with the vote count. Georgian Dream leaders have denied the accusations.
The opposition is demanding the resignation of CEC chief Tamar Zhvania and the calling of fresh elections.
Monday’s protest crowds thinned out after the 10 p.m. (1800 GMT) start of the overnight curfew that is in effect to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but a number of demonstrators remained in the streets, with police standing by.
“We should be very patient as our fight will be difficult,” Nika Melia, a UNM leader, told protesters, most of them wearing protective masks to ward off coronavirus contagion.
He said that protests would continue in Tbilisi and other cities in the former Soviet republic, with a major rally scheduled for the capital on Saturday.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich)