The Georgian parliament on Sunday appointed a controversial figure to become the country’s prime minister in a move that has triggered protests in the capital, Tbilisi.
Lawmakers voted 98 to 0 in favor of former Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, with the opposition boycotting the vote.
Gakharia is widely seen as the chief architect of a violent crackdown against Georgian anti-government protesters in June.
The protests were triggered by a Russian lawmaker addressing parliament in his native Russian while sitting in the Georgian parliamentary speaker’s seat.
But Gakharia tried to dismiss allegations that he is “Moscow’s man” in Tbilisi by taking aim at Russia’s occupation of Georgian breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. “We all agree that occupation is the biggest problem, the biggest challenge, the greatest evil in our country,” said Gakharia.
Opposition lawmakers have taken aim at billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded and leads the ruling Georgian Dream party.
“Gakharia will be Ivanishvili’s last stooge in a prime minister’s seat,” Nika Melia, an opposition leader in the United National Movement party, told Agence-France Presse news agency.
“Ivanishvili’s oligarchic rule is incompatible with democracy, and all of Georgia’s democratic and pro-Western parties will be united forces to defeat him in the parliamentary elections next year,” he said.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the parliament buildings, holding placards reading: “We will not surrender.”