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10 Mar, 2008 06:07

Georgia sees fresh protests over 'rigged' election

Opposition politicians in Georgia have begun a hunger strike to protest against January's presidential election. They claim the results, which saw Mikhail Saakashvili re-elected, were falsified. Several thousand people have rallied in Tbilisi, calling for

The opposition are also demanding changes to electoral legislation and the dismissal of the head of the Central Election Commission. The leader of the People's Party, Koba Davitashvili, said the opposition would do whatever it takes to get what it wants.

“Our demands remain free elections – both parliamentary and new presidential elections and the release of political prisoners. We'll sit here until they meet our demands,” said Davitashvili.

The hunger strike was announced at a protest, which blocked the main street of Tbilisi. However, despite the radical tactics of the opposition leaders, the rally was much smaller than usual.

One large party, the Republicans, did not attend. They've split from the main opposition coalition and will go it alone in the forthcoming parliamentary election.

Undeterred, the remaining members of the coalition vowed to stage a repeat of the events of November 2007, when tens of thousands of protesters blocked Tbilisi's main street for days.

Those rallies ended with violence on November 7, when clashes between police and demonstrators led to the declaration of a state of emergency.

To defuse the crisis, President Saakashvili called a snap presidential election – but the opposition insists the poll was rigged. They want a run-off between Saakaashvili and runner up Gachechiladze and have denounced government control over the media.

They say that hunger strikes are the only way to make sure that parliamentary elections in the spring will be fair.