Georgia firms hope to weather flight ban Russia takes 2 ways

TBILISI, Georgia — A ban on Russian airlines taking citizens to Georgia will cut visitor traffic significantly at first but tourism should recover quickly, Georgian travel agencies said Saturday as Russia also barred Georgian airlines from its airports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday ordered a ban on Russian flights to Georgia starting July 8 after a Russian delegation’s appearance in the Georgian parliament sparked large protests.

On Saturday, the Russian Transportation Ministry announced Georgian airlines would be prevented from flying to Russia beginning the same day because of security concerns and debts from navigation services.

The moves echo bans Russia imposed in 2006 on flights and imports of Georgian wine and mineral water as tensions rose between the countries. The bans were later lifted.

The 2006 Russian bans “at first had a negative effect, but new markets and new contracts were found. I think the same will happen in the tourism sphere,” Kakha Gogolashvili of Georgian tour agency Globus said Saturday.

Georgia is a popular destination for Russian tourists, who are attracted by the country’s dramatic mountain scenery and its wine. The Russian association of tour operators says 5,000-7,000 Russians currently are visiting Georgia on organized tours, and twice that many likely are there travelling independently, according to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Clashes between police and protesters on Thursday in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi injured at least 240 people, including two reported to have lost eyes when police fired rubber bullets to try to disperse a crowd attempting to storm the parliament building.

A large but more orderly protest was held Friday, with demonstrators denouncing the government as overly friendly to Russia and calling for a snap parliamentary election.

On Saturday evening, about 1,500 demonstrators again assembled outside parliament; the crowd was expected to grow during the evening.

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