Georgia: 10,000 rally against president

More than 10,000 protesters have gathered in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi. The mass rally has now officially started with leaders of the opposition parties joining their supporters. The opposition has said the rally will last until the gover

The rally, scheduled for Friday began 24 hours ahead of time. The opposition vowed that all their supporters would join them expecting as many as 100,000 protestors.

Former allies now rivals

One of Georgia's most influential opposition leaders and an organiser of the rally is Georgy Haindrava. He supported the current President Mikhail Saakashvili during the revolution of 2003 which brought him to power.

During the Georgian-Abkhaz war, Haindrava was minister for Abkhazia. He helped spearhead the Rose Revolution, when he joined the opposition forces led by Mikhail Saakashvili.

Saakashvili appointed Haindrava Minister in charge of regulating conflicts. But in July 2006, Saakashvili dismissed him from the post because Haindrava strongly opposed the government's policy of using force to solve the conflicts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

After this Haindrava went into opposition.

Violence ruled out

The authorities have called for restraint, and say everything should be done to make sure the protest remains peaceful. The entrance to the city's main boulevard has been blocked by police. At the moment the atmosphere is still relatively calm on the streets.

The protestors are demonstrating against Georgian President Mikhal Saakashvili's presence in power and are calling for early parliamentary elections next April rather than in autumn as previously agreed.“We will not allow any violence and we do not want to change the government using violence. But also we won't let anybody prevent people from attending peaceful rallies”, vowed Gia Tortladze, an opposition MP.

Saakashvili – 'Roman Emperor'

In the run up to the anti-government rally, Georgian pop star Utsnobi, brother of a prominent opposition MP, Levan Gachechiladze, released a controversial video depicting president Saakashvili as a Roman Emperor gorging on food and drink while inmates are mistreated in prison by faceless judges. In the song's chorus, Utsnobi calls on Saakashvili to 'Make the right decision for his country'.

The latest unrest was intensified by the arrest of ex-defence minister Irakli Okruashvili on corruption charges in September, after accusing president Saakashvili of a string of crimes. Okruashvili withdrew these accusations within a few days after his arrest, before being released on bail. The ex-minister left the country on Thursday. The government says he is receiving medical treatment abroad, though his supporters say he was forced to leave.

“Okruashvili was given a passport with a French visa, taken to the airport, put on a plane and sent away from the country. He called me from Munich airport to tell me. Earlier he told me he wanted to take part in the rally on November 2”, – claims Eka Beselia, Okruashvili’s lawyer.