Opposition rally aims to prevent Georgia independence parade
Some 2,000-3,000 people marched on Wednesday in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, from the state television office toward Freedom Square and the parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue. The marchers held aloft banners reading “Misha has to go” and “We support free elections.”
The protesters hope to oust incumbent President Mikhail Saakashvili and force early presidential and parliamentary elections. They are demanding an end to state-sanctioned corruption and accuse Saakashvili of abusing his position to maintain his grip on power.
The rally was organized by ex-parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze’s Democratic Movement – United Georgia.
“United Georgia is not going to back off and will continue peaceful protests calling for the resignation of Mikhail Saakashvili, as well as early presidential elections in Georgia,” Burdzhanadze told the press hours before the march started.
The opposition supporters are being allowed to remain at Freedom Square until midnight Wednesday, 10 hours before a military parade which is scheduled to pass through the site. The parade is aimed at commemorating the restoration of the country’s independence. The Democratic Republic of Georgia was first proclaimed on May 26, 1918, and existed de facto until February 25, 1921, when Soviet Russia regained its control over Georgia.
The opposition leaders, however, are saying that their people will stay at Freedom Square and near the parliamentary building overnight and will block the parade. Burdzhanadze has called on the demonstrators to remain on the square for another 15-16 hours.
“We will not allow the parade to be held here tomorrow,” she said. “If the present leaders remain in power, there will be no democracy in our county for another 20 years, and the problems that it faces won’t be solved.”
In the meantime, government officials say that the parade will take place in Tbilisi regardless of the opposition’s actions. The majority of the population, they said, supports Saakashvili, who has vowed not to resign until his term ends in October 2013.
“Georgia is a democratic country and protests are something normal if they happen within the law,” a member of the Georgian parliament, Nugzar Tsiklauri, told the Interfax news agency. “Otherwise, the response [from the government] will also be in accordance with the law.”