Georgia’s opposition accused a police colonel on Monday of poisoning anti-government demonstrators with adulterated wine but officials said the protesters were simply drunk.
Thousands of Georgians took part on Sunday night in a third day of protests against President Mikhail Saakashvili. They accuse him of corruption and authoritarianism.
Georgy Bukia, a member of Democratic Front, an opposition parliamentary faction, said the demonstrators lost consciousness after drinking wine distributed by a Georgian police colonel.Keti Kochorashvili, spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, said 24 people had been taken to five hospitals and four people had been already released.
“Others will be released by the end of the day. It was not a poisoning, these people were drunk,” he said.
Bukia said he believed the poisoning was sanctioned by the authorities. “The police (who were guarding the protesters’ area) allowed the car to drive in, while not letting any other car pass through.
“Some 30 people were hospitalised… We have asked for a test on the wine,” he said.
Saakashvili, a strong ally of the United States, is facing his biggest crisis since winning power in a popular revolution four years ago.
In a recorded television broadcast on Sunday he refused to talk to the opposition or accept their demands to bring forward a parliamentary election to early next year. Another mass protest was scheduled for Monday afternoon in Tbilisi.
The previously divided opposition united after the president briefly arrested Irakly Okruashvili, a former close ally who had turned against him. Okruashvili made a series of public statements accusing Saakashvili of corruption and plotting a murder, charges the president has rejected.
Saakashvili has spent much of his energy since coming to power pursuing Western-style economic reforms and travelling abroad to win support for his bid to take Georgia into NATO and the European Union.
Popular discontent has grown because the reforms have done little to improve living standards for many people and corruption remains a problem.