Thousands demand Saakashvili resignation
Several thousand protesters have turned out in Georgia's capital Tbilisi to voice their discontent with the current leadership and to demand early presidential and parliamentary elections. They picketed the national parliament and the presidential residen
Among the demands of supporters of Georgian opposition parties was an investigation into the August war in South Ossetia, freedom of speech and press, and the release of political prisoners.
The protestors also want the former independent television station – Imedi TV – to be returned to its rightful owners, the family of Badri Patarkatsishvili who died in London in February this year.
A former news programme director and the leader of one of the opposition parties Georgy Targamadze said:
“We are here to support the last independent TV station in Georgia – Imedi TV. We think that this day is the best symbol for Georgia’s new history. We should be more democratic and listen to our people”.
November 2007 protests: one year on
The mass protests started in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi on November 2, 2007, with the opposition demanding Mikhail Saakashvili’s resignation, and an immediate parliamentary election.
On the fifth day of demonstrations, when about 60,000 people were rallying in the capital, the police started dispersing the crowd using sound guns, tear gas and water cannons against protesters. Hundreds of protesters were injured in the clashes.
RT correspondent Ekaterina Azarova and cameraman Evgeny Litovko were among those caught up in the police crackdown during a live broadcast. They suffered tear-gas poisoning.
On November 8 the Georgian government declared a nationwide 15 day state of emergency and silenced opposition news channels.
A year on, many complain that things are no better, and the former head of Imedi-TV’s news programmes, Giorgi Targamadze, believes last year’s events on November 7 have become a symbol of Georgia’s modern history.
“We tried to have a direct dialogue with the authorities but there is no response,” says Kakha Kukava, the opposition Conservative Party leader.
Several thousand people have gathered in front of the Georgian parliament building.
The United Opposition press centre said the protest rally will finish in the evening, but after that opposition leaders are going to the countryside to meet the local population.
The leaders also plan to hold a session of all Georgian opposition forces in December and establish a joint political organisation.
“If the authorities do not meet our demand to hold snap parliamentary and presidential elections next spring, opposition leaders and supporters will start an indefinite protest rally on April 9, 2009,” the opposition press centre said.
Zaza Vashakidze plans to be one of the first to demonstrate on the streets of Tbilisi – he says he has nothing better to do as he’s unemployed.
He used to work as an economist in a company that did business in Russia. But after this summer’s war in South Ossetia, he believes that for as long as Mikhail Saakashvili remains President, his future looks bleak.
“We need real free elections which will help us to solve the problems we have faced, and try to overcome the damage the current government caused to our country, our nation and the whole Caucasus,” Vashakidze says. “They have created a ‘for show’ state, a ‘for show’ democracy, but it does not work!”
But it’s very difficult in Georgia today to hear the voice of the opposition. All media outlets support the government.
And opposition parties themselves have come under fire for being disjointed and disorganised.
“We can't say that the Georgian opposition is strong, as it is alienated,” says independent analyst Mamuka Areshidze. “Those opposition leaders who entered parliament can't even be called an opposition, as they are controlled by the government. All the others are alienated and they don't have charismatic leaders who Georgian people trust and who could make people follow them.”
It seems Saakashvili will be facing more discontent on the streets of his capital, but the opposition will have to get itself into shape if it ever wants to replace him.