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Georgian Opposition Gears Up For Protests


Georgia's opposition is demanding an early presidential election.

Georgia's opposition is demanding an early presidential election.

Ignoring repeated calls by the authorities for dialogue and assurances of the leadership's commitment to continued democratic reform, Georgian opposition parties intend to proceed with the protests planned for April 9 in Tbilisi and other cities to demand that President Mikheil Saakashvili step down and call an early presidential ballot.

Even though several opposition party leaders have stressed that the protests will be peaceful, the authorities appear to be positioning themselves to counter violence and simultaneously to blame it on the opposition’s imputed rejection of "dialogue." In a bid to avert any such violent confrontation, the EU Czech presidency issued a statement on April 7 calling on both opposition and authorities "to act in responsible and peaceful manner and exercise maximum restraint." Western diplomats in Tbilisi similarly issued a last-ditch appeal on April 8 to both sides to "to engage in an open dialogue seeking lasting constructive solutions to issues of importance to Georgia."

In an April 7 interview, Eka Beselia, a leading member of the Movement for a United Georgia headed by former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, said that protesters will congregate outside the parliament building in Tbilisi at 2 p.m. local time, and opposition party leaders would then explain what tactics they propose. ("Mteli kvira" on April 6 quoted David Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party as saying that discussions of what tactics to adopt were still continuing.)

As in early 2008 in the aftermath of the early presidential election in which Saakashvili was returned to power, the Georgian authorities responded to the current wave of popular dissatisfaction, first, by dismissing it as unpatriotic and potentially damaging at a time when the country remains vulnerable both to Russian intervention and to negative global economic trends, then by inviting opposition parties to engage in a dialogue on selected issues.

But the only groups to respond positively to the authorities' call for dialogue were three small parliamentary parties, including the Christian Democratic Movement, whose representatives met on April 2 and 6 with Penitentiary and Probation Minister Dmitry Shashkin to discuss national security, economic problems, and democratic reforms.

Also on April 6, Givi Targamadze, a senior lawmaker from Saakashvili's United National Movement, told civil.ge that while the authorities categorically reject the opposition’s demand for early elections, they would consider other concessions that would create a more reliable framework for a peaceful transition of power by means of democratic elections, including sweeping electoral law reform.

Targamadze also repeated the proposal floated on April 4 by Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, a close Saakashvili ally, that in future the city's mayor should be directly elected, rather than appointed by the president. Ugulava and Targamadze suggested that the first such ballot could take place concurrently with local elections due in the fall of 2010, which could be brought forward to the spring of that year. A second senior lawmaker, Pavle Kublashvili, stressed that any decision on such changes should be taken in the course of dialogue with the opposition, rather than imposed unilaterally.

In an interview with the weekly "Kviris palitra" on April 6, former Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania, who heads the opposition Alliance for Georgia, rejected the authorities’ reform proposals as unserious, insincere, and inadequate. For that reason, Alasania predicted, they are likely only to fuel public mistrust. At the same time, he affirmed, as did President Saakashvili on April 7, that dialogue is the sole available solution to the current standoff.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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