Georgia protesters urge Saakashvili to quit

18:08, 09 April 2009
World
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Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets of Tbilisi

Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets of Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, on Thursday demanding the resignation of Mikheil Saakashvili, the president, who led his country into a disastrous war with Russia last August over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, The Financial Times reported.

Popular discontent has risen since the war when foreign investors fled, triggering an economic downturn now intensified by the global financial crisis.

Political turmoil in Georgia could play into the hands of the Kremlin which has made no secret of its wish to see the pro-western Mr Saakashvili gone.

Eka Tkeshelashvili, the head of the Georgian national security council, said Russia had moved extra forces into the Akhalgori district of South Ossetia, 62km north of Tbilisi, to exert psychological pressure on Georgia and position for possible action if the demonstration spun out of control.

“It is a well placed plan. They are calculating for several scenarios,” she said.

Russia told the European Union’s monitoring mission in Georgia this week that the military build-up in Akhalgori was the temporary result of a routine troop rotation.

Russia has denied the EU mission access to South Ossetia, violating the terms of a ceasefire that ended the war.

The opposition has accused the government of stoking tension to discourage Georgians from joining the demonstration they said would be the biggest protest since the Rose Revolution in 2003 that swept Mr Saakashvili to power.

Ten men linked to the opposition were arrested last month on charges of buying weapons and plotting unrest.

Mr Saakashvili has carved an image in the west as a democratic reformer, but his critics in Georgia say he has monopolized power and stifled the independence of the media and the judiciary.

Irakli Alasania said, the leader of the Alliance opposition group, said, “dramatic changes in the style and philosophy of government are needed if Georgia is to emerge from the military, political and economic crisis. “

Mr Alasania, who resigned as Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations last December to join the opposition, said the protest will be peaceful and will demonstrate the unity of the Georgian opposition until now weakened by infighting.

However, opposition groups are divided on whether to continue the protest until Mr Saakashvili steps down.

Mr Saakashvili, who won a 53 per cent majority at an election last year his critics say was falsified, insists he will stay on until the next poll in 2013.

Law enforcers have consulted with European crowd control experts and pledged to avoid a repeat of mistakes in November 2007 when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on anti government protestors undermining Georgia’s democratic credentials.

The Financial Times

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