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Europe

Opposition demonstrators step up anti-Saakashvili protests

Latest update : 2009-05-27

Thousands of anti-government protesters have temporarily blocked Tbilisi's railway station and are planning further action at key highways and the Georgian capital's airport to demand President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation.

AFP - Thousands of anti-government protesters on Tuesday temporarily blocked Tbilisi rail station paralysing traffic at the strategic railway artery between the energy-rich Caspian region and the West.
   
The move marks a new spiral in Georgia's political turmoil as daily opposition protests since April 9 to demand President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation mobilised more than 50,000 supporters at a Tuesday rally.
   
"We are determined to continue our struggle until Saakashvili resigns," leader of the Movement for United Georgia party, Eka Besselia, told AFP as the opposition leaders and groups of protesters standing at the track prevented a train from leaving the station.
   
She said the blockade is "of warning and temporary character" and that the opposition "considers different options such as blocking railway, key highways in Georgia and the road towards the Tbilisi airport" to force Saakashvili to resign.
   
Police kept a low profile and did not intervene with the protest.
   
The blockade lasted for several hours and protesters dispersed peacefully.
   
Saakashvili said opposition protests hit the economy and vowed not to allow disruptions to the railway.
   
"I will do everything in order not to let anyone ... block the railway and cause suffering to our people," he said on May 19.
   
Cargo transportation through the Georgian railway decreased by 35 percent since the opposition protests started, the Georgian Railway CEO, Irakli Ezugbaia, said on May 20.
   
"Statements about blocking the railway become frequent. As a result we now witness reduction of cargo transported ... even by such strong companies as Chevron and Exxon," Ezugbaia said.
   
Opponents accuse Saakashvili of mishandling the conflict with Russia and of becoming increasingly autocratic since he came to power after the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution.
   
Saakashvili whose mandate expires in 2013 has rejected the resignation calls, instead offering talks on democratic reforms, and has suggested that Russia is financing the campaign against him.
   
An opinion poll conducted by the Washington-based Greenberg Quinlan Research on May 1-9 showed increased public support and higher personal favorable ratings for Saakashvili since late March.
   
"As our poll revealed, the public says that replacing Saakashvili with someone new would most likely worsen the situation in Georgia," the pollster Jeremy Rosner told AFP.
   
The European Union and the United States made a rare joint appeal on Monday for an end to the political stand-off in Georgia, urging the government and opposition leaders to start unconditional talks.
 

Date created : 2009-05-27

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