Opposition demonstrates in Tbilisi

Approximately 10,000 protesters were in the streets of the Georgian capital Friday, calling for reforms ahead of parliamentary elections slated for May.


About 10,000 opposition protesters demonstrated in Georgia's capital Tbilisi on Friday calling for concessions from the government ahead of parliamentary elections in the ex-Soviet state.

At the demonstration in front of parliament, opposition leaders called for greater independence for public television and the resignation of the head of the electoral commission, who the opposition sees as too close to the government.

"We have restarted permanent demonstrations to force the authorities to satisfy our demands," said Levan Gachechiladze, who lost to President Mikheil Saakashvili in a January 5 election.

"I call on all Georgians to gather and show the authorities the strength of our determination to defend democracy," he said.

Opposition leader Zviad Dzidziguri told the crowd "everything is false in Georgia -- false democracy, a false and illegitimate president, a false judiciary, false media freedom."

"We demand true democracy, free and fair elections, free media and an independent judiciary," said Dzidziguri.

Among the protesters, 46-year-old Maya Vashnadze told AFP "we want to show that Georgia is ready to rejoin the family of democratic European nations."

A member of the opposition Conservative party, Kakha Kukava, announced that opposition parties, which share a broadly pro-Western agenda, would run on a joint ticket at the parliamentary polls expected in May.

The opposition is also demanding the release of people it says were jailed during anti-government protests in November that led to a nine-day state of emergency and the holding of early presidential polls.

While Saakashvili has offered some concessions, the opposition say these fall short.

The opposition also disputes the results of the January presidential election, at which Saakashvili was awarded 53.5 percent.

However international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave the polls a clean bill of health.

Friday's demonstration passed off peacefully, with the protesters dispersing in the late afternoon.

Opposition spokeswoman Nino Sturua said the coalition would organise a nationwide hunger strike starting on February 22.

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