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7 Jun, 2008 13:34

MPs sworn in as Saakashvili thwarts opposition rally

Georgia's newly-elected MPs have been sworn in while opposition supporters protested on the streets outside. But there was also controversy inside the chamber as three opposition members refused to attend the session in response to what they say was a rig

President Mikhail Saakashvili had thwarted opposition plans for a major rally by opening the new legislature three days earlier than initially planned. Most people had predicted that the inauguration of the new parliament would take place on Monday. But it was announced late on Friday night that the ceremony would be the following morning – taking the opposition by surprise.

The rally started at midnight, with the opposition hoping to picket the parliament building in time for the inauguration. But with little time to assemble a large crowd and the side streets sealed off by police, ruling party MPs had little difficulty getting into the building.

There was no violence at the rally, but riot police and water cannons were on standby. In an effort to avoid the street battles of November last year, when opposition rallies were fiercely dispersed by the police, they were stationed several blocks away.

Despite not being able to thwart the opening ceremony, opposition leaders destroyed the certificates confirming their MP status.

“We should simply ignore the illegal president and the illegal parliament,” said United Opposition leader Levan Gachehiladze, who was first to shred his parliamentary certificate.

“This is not a parliamentary session, this is a meeting of mafia bosses! A meeting of thieves of the state budget – thieves of our souls and thieves of our votes,” Labour Party Leader Shalva Natelashvili said.

However, the new speaker of the parliament, David Bakradze, said he hoped to work closely with all forces.

“For the Georgian parliament as an institution it is important that the opposition is represented. We want a strong opposition and we are ready for that. We have specific senior positions in parliament we are willing to offer to the opposition,” Bakradze said.

With Saturday's ceremony the new parliament can now officially start work. However, the opposition continue to regard it as illegitimate.

Their supporters promise to be back to protest as often as it takes until they get what they want.