Georgia's flagship airline bans president over Russia flights criticism - TASS

FILE PHOTO: Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili delivers a speech during the Independence Day celebrations in Tbilisi

By Felix Light

TBILISI (Reuters) - The founder of Georgia's national airline Georgian Airways has banned the country's president from using its services after she said she would boycott the airline over its resumption of flights to Russia, Russia's TASS news agency reported on Sunday.

Russia announced this month it was lifting a four-year old ban on direct flights with Georgia and removing a decades-old visa requirement for Georgians travelling to Russia.

President Salome Zourabichvili urged Georgian authorities to thwart the Russian initiative, an appeal they ignored.

Tamaz Gaiashvili, founder of privately-owned Georgian Airways, was cited by TASS on Sunday as saying that Zourabichvili was now "persona non grata" and would be banned until she "apologises before the Georgian people".

There was no immediate reaction from Zourabichvili.

Although Georgian officials welcomed the resumption of flights, some Georgians who want the South Caucasus country to distance itself from Moscow in favour of the European Union demonstrated against it in central Tbilisi on Sunday.

Many Georgians oppose any rapprochement with Moscow whose troops garrison two breakaway regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - that make up around one fifth of the country's territory.

Other Georgians are more open to the idea however, and the Georgian government has in recent years worked to improve ties with Moscow, declining to impose sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine.

President Zourabichvili, whose position is largely ceremonial and whose relations with the government are strained, has warned that deepening ties with Russia could jeopardise the country's chances of the EU one day.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Andrew Osborn)