Georgia's Saakashvili says won't quit

13:41, 10 April 2009
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Opposition brought 60,000 people into the streets of Tbilisi

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Friday he would not give in to opposition demands for him to resign, on the second day of street protests to force him out of office, Reuters reported.

He called for dialogue with opposition leaders, who on Thursday brought 60,000 people into the streets of the capital and then blocked the capital`s main avenue through the night.

Asked if he would agree to the opposition demand for him to resign immediately, Saakashvili told a news conference: "It`s obvious the answer to this question is `No`."

Tbilisi`s Rustaveli Avenue remained blocked to traffic on Friday, and opposition leaders called another protest for 3 p.m. (7 a.m. EDT).

Saakashvili, seen by some Georgians as brash and impulsive, has polarized opinion in the former Soviet republic. But foreign diplomats question whether the opposition alliance can maintain unity and muster the numbers to force him out.

Opposition leaders accuse the 41-year-old president of stifling reforms promised with the 2003 Rose Revolution that swept him to power, and embroiling the country in a disastrous war with Russia last year.

Defeat in the five-day war with Russia, when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia, has emboldened critics who argue the president has made too many mistakes to remain in power until 2013.

Saakashvili said the country, grappling with the fallout of war and the impact of the global economic crisis, needed unity and stability.

"We have no alternative to dialogue and sharing responsibility," he said.

"Dear friends, it is easy to drive wedges and make ultimatums," Saakashvili said. "It is difficult to work together, cooperate, listen and share opinions, and accept different opinions."

The West is watching closely for any repeat of a crackdown in November 2007, when police firing teargas and rubber bullets dispersed the last mass demonstrations against Saakashvili.

Analysts say Saakashvili`s ruling United National Movement retains wide support, and the president`s position appears strong despite the defection of several top allies and repeated cabinet reshuffles.

Many Georgians appear frustrated with the political bickering in Tbilisi and are sympathetic to government calls for stability as the global economic crisis takes hold.


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