AFP - Direct talks between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and the opposition ended Monday with no sign of resolving a month-long stand-off that has raised fears of instability.
Opposition leaders said the talks with Saakashvili had failed to make any progress, more than a month into demonstrations that have disrupted life in the capital.
"Saakashvili thinks that everything is very well (in the country) and we think that everything is very bad.... There was no other result of this meeting," opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze, a former presidential candidate, told journalists after the talks.
He said protests would continue and that the opposition would announce further plans later Monday.
Another opposition leader, former UN envoy Irakli Alasania, said deep differences remained despite the talks.
"The differences are still there, we have different views on how the crisis can be resolved," he said.
But Alasania, considered a moderate, also said the talks were an important first step in bringing the country out of political crisis.
"It is very important that this meeting took place.... It was very important to discuss this in person with the president," he said.
Saakashvili made no immediate comment but was expected to make a statement later.
The protests, which began on April 9, have been the biggest demonstrations against Saakashvili's rule since a war last August with Russia over the breakaway South Ossetia region.
Opposition leaders offered talks with the government last week after riot police clashed with protesters in the first serious outbreak of violence since the protests began. Police said nobody was seriously injured.
The clashes and a brief bloodless military mutiny last week have raised fears of wider unrest in Georgia, which is currently hosting controversial NATO military exercises that have infuriated Russia.
Saakashvili has hinted that Russia is trying to stir up trouble in its southern neighbour and has had a hand in the protests.
The opposition accuses Saakashvili of mishandling the war with Russia and of becoming increasingly autocratic since coming to power after the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution.
About 20,000 opposition supporters rallied in central Tbilisi on Saturday. Protesters have set up dozens of mock jail cells, blocked main streets in the capital for weeks and threatened to expand protest actions by blocking key highways.
Saakashvili told Russia's Echo of Moscow radio that the protests, and the government's tolerance of them, were a sign of maturing democracy.
"This shows that Georgia has gone a long way on the path to democracy. Our society is maturing," he said.
Tensions have increased in recent days but officials have vowed there would be no repeat of events in November 2007 when riot police used water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of protesters.