Apparently inspired by Arab world’s tumult, thousands of Georgians protest, demanding ouster of President Saakashvili


Thousands of Georgians, inspired by the popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world, took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi to demand the ouster of President Mikhail Saakashvili. They also called for early presidential and parliamentary elections.

About 10,000 protesters from the National Assembly opposition alliance rallied in the capital Tbilisi and hundreds more in the Black Sea resort of Batumi, where police broke up protests, Agence-France Presse reported.

“We are fighting for democracy and against neo-Bolshevism,” opposition leader Nino Burjanadze, a former parliamentary speaker for the Saakashvili government, told AFP.

“We demand Saakashvili resignation in order to hold democratic elections,” she said.

Speakers at the protest in Tbilisi accused President Saakashvili of authoritarianism, saying he had failed to tackle widespread poverty and had lost large parts of Georgian territory during the country’s disastrous war with Russia in 2008.

The rallies in the capital proceeded peacefully but police dispersed a parallel protest in Batumi after activists tried to force their way into a local television station, demanding live broadcasts of the demonstrations.

Tsira Abuladze, head of news at state television in the autonomous Adjara region on the Black Sea, told Reuters by telephone from Batumi that a crowd of up to 400 people had pushed at doors and threw stones at windows.

President Saakashvili eased out the Moscow-backed leader of Adjara in 2004, strengthening Tbilisi’s control over the region. But the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, also supported by Moscow, remain beyond Tbilisi’s control.

Opponents accuse him of imposing autocratic rule on Georgia, a former Soviet republic that sits astride important road and rail links and energy transit routes from the Caspian to Western Europe.

Protesters led by former Mr. Saakashvili ally and parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze marched along Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare, blocking traffic, and then staged a rally at the central Freedom square, according to Reuters.

“We will fight to the end together with you. It is the final and decisive fight for all of us and we are not going to take any steps back,” Nino Burjanadze told the crowd.

Despite defeat in the war with Russia in 2008 and the crackdown in 2007, President Saakashvili has remained the country’s most powerful figure and many believe he could continue to dominate Georgian politics after his term ends in 2013.

(Mustapha Ajbaili, an editor at Al Arabiya, can be reached at: [email protected])