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'National disobedience' to follow president's refusal to resign

Latest update : 2009-04-11

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has refused to resign as the opposition rallied 25,000 supporters in the capital and announced a 'national disobedience' campaign. Some 60,000 protesters gathered on Thursday to demand his resignation.

AFP - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili defied calls to resign Friday as the opposition rallied 25,000 supporters in the capital and vowed to launch a campaign of civil disobedience.

"I've been listening to ultimatums every month for the last five years... My term expires in 2013," Saakashvili told journalists shortly before thousands of protesters gathered in front of Georgia's parliament in central Tbilisi.

At least 60,000 opposition supporters had rallied to call for Saakashvili's resignation on Thursday in the biggest protest to his rule since a war with Russia last August.

With the number of demonstrators falling, opposition leaders sought to ratchet up pressure on Saakashvili by announcing a disobedience campaign that would include blocking main streets in Tbilisi.

"Because Saakashvili has not decided to resign, the opposition has decided to start a national disobedience campaign," Kakha Kukava, a co-leader of the opposition Conservative Party, told the crowd.

"As of 6 pm today (1400 GMT) the protesters will block main streets throughout Tbilisi," Kukava said, adding that three main roads, including Tbilisi's main street Rustaveli Avenue, would be targeted.

Saakashvili said he was ready for dialogue on a range of issues, including electoral reforms and constitutional changes such as direct elections for mayors and other municipal officials.

"There is poverty in the country which has been aggravated by the war and the economic crisis and our citizens are angry today because of these problems. I am angry too," he said.

"It is not easy to overcome all of this... It requires unity and dialogue."

Several hundred protesters had stayed overnight Friday outside Georgia's imposing Soviet-era parliament building, the focal point of protests, shivering through cold and windy weather. Parked cars had blocked Rustaveli Avenue in front of parliament.

"The president must resign, there can be no dialogue with him. He must resign because he lost our territory, he is not interested in the people and there is no justice in Georgia," said Guka Kvantaliani, 65, who was among the thousands who later joined the rally.

Opposition to Saakashvili has been growing since Georgia's war with Russia last year, with many, including some prominent former allies, accusing the president of mishandling the conflict.

Critics have also accused Saakashvili of betraying the values of the 2003 Rose Revolution that swept him to power by persecuting critics, stifling the media and concentrating power in his own hands.

Both the government and opposition have promised to keep the demonstrations peaceful, but tensions are running high and some fear the protests could spark civil unrest.

Security officials said police would not interfere with protests, even if they seek to block city streets. Some fear a repeat of events in November 2007 when riot police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesters, badly damaging Saakashvili's reputation.

Government supporters say Saakashvili continues to enjoy widespread support and that the opposition is looking to overturn the results of a snap presidential poll last year in which he won a second five-year term.

Date created : 2009-04-10