Georgian opposition unite in bid to oust Saakashvili

Georgian opposition activists clash with sticks as they protest during a rally against President Saakashvili in Tbilisi on May 22, 2011 (AFP Photo / Vano Shlamov)
Georgian police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse a protest rally near the office of the country’s public broadcaster. Protesters held a live TV transmission calling for Saakashvili’s immediate resignation.

­Leaders of the opposition movement Popular Assembly and several more political parties have announced that they have been holding sessions in order to develop a joint action plans.

Protesters were blocking the street near the public television office over the weekend. The second mass action of protest started on Sunday afternoon and announced that they were ready to accept anyone who shared their ultimate objective – the ousting of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

One of the leaders of the Popular Assembly, Giorgiy Kobakhidze, said during the demonstration that his organization was not a political one and all its members were united only in love of their motherland. Other parties that took part in talks included the Solidarity with Illegal Inmates group, the Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights group and the Free Georgia party.

Preliminary reports say that the Georgian Party, headed by former defense minister Irakly Okruashvili, will also take part in the talks. The Georgian Party has promised to take part in the Day of Anger – a mass protest action scheduled on May 25. Okruashvili has promised personally to lead the protesters (the former minister has been granted political asylum in France after Georgian authorities charged him with corruption and threatened him with prison if he did not recall his sharp criticism of Saakashvili’s regime).

Georgian officials have not issued any official comments or warnings regarding the opposition rallies and plans. President Mikhail Saakashvili is on an official visit to Hungary.

The protest actions started in Georgia on Saturday and were first held in the nation’s capital, Tbilisi, and in the major port of Batumi. The media reported that the police reacted after some of the protesters attacked a police car with plastic pipes. Other reports say the opposition rally was attacked by pro-government provocateurs.

Opposition leaders Nino Burdzhanadze and Irakly Batiashvili called on their supporters to continue protests until May 25. At the same time, the two politicians acknowledged that they had not managed to gather as many supporters as they had initially hoped. Media put the estimated number of protesters at Sunday rally at 2,000.

According to Burdzhanadze, Georgian police detained about 300 opposition activists over the weekend. She said that the arrests took place all over the country.

On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s envoy on human rights, democracy and supremacy of law, Konstantin Dolgov, said in an official statement that the Georgian authorities were violating the right of assembly and warned that using force against the demonstrators would only lead to further destabilization. “We perceived this information and were deeply worried. The actions of Mikhail Saakashvili’s regime cannot be evaluated in any other way than barring the population and the country’s political forces from realizing their lawful right for free assembly and expression that are fixed, in particular, in the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,” reads the Russian diplomat’s address. “If the Georgian authorities do not stop using forceful methods this will lead to a further aggravation of the relations between the power base and the opposition, and further destabilization of the general situation in the country,” the address reads.

Earlier in the day, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said the international community had made no comment on opposition rallies, and no one had made related appeals to the Georgian Foreign Ministry. A ministry representative also said that it would be irrelevant for the Georgian Foreign Ministry to comment on the opposition actions and that the Georgian authorities recognized and respected the right to freedom of assembly.