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Europe

Saakashvili's opponents rally for third day in Tbilisi

Latest update : 2009-04-13

Thousands of protestors took to the streets for a third day in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Saturday, calling on President Mikheil Saakashvili to step down. Accused of increasing autocracy, Saakashvili refused to succumb to opposition pressure.

AFP - Thousands gathered in the Georgian capital Saturday for a third day of protests demanding President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation, but the opposition-led movement appeared to be dwindling.
   
At least 4,000 protesters rallied outside Georgia's parliament, an AFP reporter said, and opposition leaders said others were gathering at two other locations, blocking streets leading toward the offices of the president and the state broadcaster.
   
The number of protesters had fallen significantly from the 60,000 who rallied on Thursday and 25,000 on Friday -- the biggest demonstrations against Saakashvili's rule since a war with Russia last August.
   
Organisers have vowed to continue protests until Saakashvili resigns, but called a one-day break from demonstrations on Sunday, when Orthodox Christian Georgia marks the beginning of the week before Easter.
   
Opposition leader Koba Davitashvili of the People's Party told the crowd at parliament that protesters would not budge in their demand for the president to leave office.
   
"There will be no dialogue with Saakashvili. Dialogue is possible on only one issue: his resignation," he said.
   
Despite the smaller numbers, protesters insisted the opposition movement was gaining momentum.
   
"Pressure is mounting on Saakashvili. Even if we are less at the rally today the number of people is not the most important thing. Even if there are only 20 people here, he must listen to us," said protester Levan Chelidze, 45.
   
Protesters announced a campaign of civil disobedience Friday after Saakashvili offered talks with the opposition but rejected calls to step down.
   
Some in the wide coalition of opposition forces organising the protests said they were ready to sit down with the president, but others said there was nothing to discuss but his resignation.
   
Opponents accuse Saakashvili of mishandling the conflict with Russia and of becoming increasingly autocratic since he came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution, a peaceful public uprising.
   
Both the government and opposition have promised to keep the demonstrations peaceful, but tensions are running high and some fear the protests could turn violent.
   
Police have kept a low profile during the demonstrations and made no moves to interfere with protesters.
   
Security officials are keen to avoid a repeat of events in November 2007 when riot police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters, damaging Saakashvili's reputation as a democratic reformer in the region.

Date created : 2009-04-11

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