June 20 (UPI) -- At least 69 people, including 39 police officers, were injured Thursday as demonstrators attempted to force their way into the Georgian parliament in protest against the appearance of a Russian politician in the government building.
Protests erupted throughout the country following Russian member of parliament Sergey Gavrilov, who is visiting Georgia as head of a Russian envoy participating in the 26th General Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, opened the day's assembly by speaking Russian from the chairperson's tribune while sitting in his chair, Open Caucasus Media reported.
At least two people were blinded in one eye as riot police fired rubber bullets to disperse the protesters on Rustaveli Avenue, Georgia Today reported.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement Friday that the protest in front of parliament "went beyond the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly" and despite its requests for protesters to disperse protests continued and police "used special means of proportional force in compliance with the law."
On Thursday, the ministry warned protesters to obey police orders or they would result to "measures provided by law."
Opposition Georgian Labor Party founder Shalva Natelashvili visited a clinic where the injured were hospitalized and told reporters that protests will continue Friday in the capital.
Gavrilov was escorted from the building after opposition representatives picketed the rostrum, preventing the session from continuing, Russia's state-run TASS reported.
He then warned that "negotiations on humanitarian-economic issues between the two countries may fail" as a result of the disturbance.
Protesters accuse the Russian politician of having fought against the country during the war of the early 1990s while also having drafted a law in 2011 providing assistance to authorities in Georgia's Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.
Gavrilov denies the accusations, saying he "never participated in any hostilities on the territory of Abkhazia."
Russia is Occupant, the civil-led movement behind the day's protest, describe Gavrilov as Putin's "ideological ally."
When asked during the session if he felt uncomfortable in Georgia, of which 20 percent is occupied by Russia, he said "I have no discomfort at all. I am very happy. Georgia is my homeland."
Georgian Parliament Speaker Irakli Kohakhidze said in his opening speech that it was regrettable that the country's greatest problem is that Georgian land is being occupied by a country where they share the same religion, Orthodox Christianity.
"Georgia will not be defeated with violence because today's political course of the Georgian people is our historic choice," he said, highlighting the country's distancing from Russia and warming relations to Europe.
The Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, which was founded in 1994 on the initiative of the Hellenic Parliament, is being held in Georgia until Sunday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy to Georgia and the European Delegation there called for both sides to "remain calm, show restraint and act within the framework of the Constitution at all times."