Georgian President promises to lift state of emergency

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili confirmed that the nationwide state of emergency, put in place after violent clashes between police and protesters, will be lifted within days. The police cordon in Tbilisi centre has been removed. It`s been announ

The move is being seen as an attempt to outflank his political opponents. They're predicting Saakashvili will lose the vote. He says he wants a fresh mandate from the Georgian people. Saakashvili added that there would be a parallel referendum to let the nation decide on the date of parliamentary elections.

In another development, two opposition leaders have been accused of plotting a coup with Russian embassy staff.  Legal proceedings have been launched against Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili and Tsotne Gamsakhurdiya.  It's reported both men have fled the country.

The leader of the opposition People's Party, Koba Davitashvili, claims he was beaten up in Tbilisi by seven plainclothes policemen. He adds that he was forcibly taken to another town 60 kilometres from Georgian capital and put in an intensive care unit against his will. According to Davitashvili he then contacted the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Nino Burdjanadze, who ordered his release.

Information vacuum

At the height of Wednesday's violence, authorities shut down the independent Imedi TV channel.      
Andrew Butcher is the senior vice-president of News Corporation, which owns Imedi.  He said he was “shocked and horrified” by what had happened. 

“We have businesses on five continents and never have we had a violent incursion by government troops into one of our buildings and our staff beaten up by government offices,” Mr Butcher said.

Georgian residents are complaining about the lack of sources of independent information. It's not clear whether the information blackout will end when the state of emergency is lifted.

The International Federation of Journalists has condemned the imposition of censorship and a ban on media in Georgia.
Leading Russian journalists have also asked Mikhail Saakashvili to allow the independent mass media to resume their work.

All Georgian TV and radio except for the public broadcaster have been forbidden from reporting news under the state of emergency imposed on Wednesday.

Cable TV in Tbilisi has resumed the broadcast of Russian channels.

Opinions in Georgia

Some Georgian opposition leaders have welcomed Saakashivili's announcement to hold early presidential elections. They are calling it a victory.  

One of Georgia's Republican Party leaders, Tina Khidasheli, is predicting Saakashvili will lose the election.

“Mr Saakashvili has no chance of being the leader who defeated this nation and this people,” Ms Khidasheli said.

Political analysts in Tbilisi say the decision to hold early presidential elections is a considered step. They believe it could win Saakashvili a second term as head of state. Analysts claim that the opposition could win the election if only they could agree on a single candidate to confront Saakashvili, but the experts are not sure that the President's opponents will have enough time to prepare.

One of them, Archil Gegeshidze, said January 5 is not far away. He said candidates wishing to agains Saakashvili don't have much time to prepare psychologically for the battle ahead.

“I think it gives them guarantees to be re-elected for the second term. And also the most important bone of contention these days is the date of the parliamentary election. This problem will also be solved,” Mr Gegeshidze said.

Russia reacts

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has expelled three Georgian diplomats in response to a similar move by Georgia on Wednesday.

The Ministry also said in a statement that Georgia is moving closer to creating a serious human rights crisis in the country.

I’m a Georgian student in the US and luckily I have access to foreign media. I can’t make phone calls to family, friends and relatives in Tbilisi because they won’t be willing to discuss the matter over the phone and I don’t want to place them in danger. Saakashvili’s government is taping the calls and terrorizing the nation. If not this fear of repressions more people would have gone out to Tbilisi’s streets to protest against government. The two main sources of unbiased information in the country ‘Imedi’ and ‘Kavkasia’ TV stations are shut down and president is talking about presidential elections in January. Where is the democracy and human rights? Why is the government so afraid to face its people? People are wise and they want answers. Suppressing opposition will only aggravate anger and injustice.

Nini, USA

Georgia's political leadership has repeatedly accused Russia of being involved in the recent wave of civil unrest that has swept the country.

Viktor Sergeev, a director at the Centre for Global Problems at Moscow State University of International Relations, says bringing forward the Presidential election was a smart move by Saakashvili:

“Possibly this is the best thing he could invent in such a situation because to go on with the state of emergency without any democratic supplement would be very difficult for him because of the Western countries’ reaction”, Mr Sergeev said.

International voices

A number of international observers are now heading to Georgia to help settle the crisis.

One of them, Matyas Eorsi from the PACE Monitoring Committee, says the situation in the country resembles recent events in Hungary.

“Demonstrations are normal in any democracy.  The similarity here is that both in Georgia and in Hungary the opposition seem to want to fire the government with non-constitutional tools. But the state of emergency is not a proper answer,” Mr Eorsi said.

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