Opposition vows to keep up pressure until Saakashvili resigns

Georgia's opposition vowed on Sunday to ratchet up the pressure on President Mikheil Saakashvili to step down over the next week as 1,000 anti-government protesters gathered outside parliament and blocked the main street in the capital.


AFP - Georgia's opposition vowed Sunday to boost pressure on President Mikheil Saakashvili over the next week as protesters held a small rally and continued to block the main street in the capital.

With protests calling for Saakashvili's resignation continuing for a fourth day, about 1,000 opposition supporters rallied in Tbilisi outside Georgia's parliament building.

Protest organisers had initially called a one-day break from demonstrations Sunday, when Orthodox Christian Georgia marks the beginning of the week before Easter.

But organisers later said they would hold a small protest after saying there had been a late-night attack on their protest venue near parliament Saturday.

Opposition leaders have called for protesters to return in large numbers Monday for a fresh wave of rallies and have promised to boost a campaign of civil disobedience against Saakashvili.

"Tomorrow there will be even more people and I'm sure they will stand here until the president resigns," said opposition leader Nino Burjanadze, a former speaker of parliament.

The opposition would announce new protest actions on Monday, she added, but refused to give any details.

"We have to do something different tomorrow, it's the people's demand," she said.

Tensions flared late Saturday when the opposition and authorities traded accusations over a fight near parliament.

Opposition leaders said dozens of unidentified assailants attacked their protest venue, smashing equipment and tearing down banners. They blamed the authorities for the incident.

Police, however, said the protesters had attacked municipal street cleaners when they arrived to sweep the area. There were no reports of serious injuries.

Thousands of opposition supporters have been protesting against Saakashvili since Thursday in the biggest demonstrations against his rule since a war with Russia last August.

As the number of protesters has fallen significantly -- from some 60,000 on Thursday to about 4,000 on Saturday -- opposition leaders have sought to ratchet up pressure on Saakashvili.

Every day, they have marched to the offices of the president and state broadcaster, paralysing traffic in the centre of the capital.

Opposition leaders have said they plan to increase the number of protest venues in order to further disrupt daily life in Tbilisi and to expand protests across the country.

Burjanadze said organisers would likely declare a break in protests next weekend, as most people in deeply religious Georgia will be celebrating Easter, but that demonstrations would continue afterward.

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.

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