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Georgian Opposition Pledges To Renew Protests, Denies Reports Of Disunity


Opposition supporters rally outside the parliament building in Tbilisi on April 17.

Opposition supporters rally outside the parliament building in Tbilisi on April 17.

Georgian opposition leaders announced on April 15 that they will suspend mass public rallies for a period of four days, from April 17-20, to mark the Orthodox Easter holiday. They will, however, continue picketing the presidential residence, the parliament building, and the offices in central Tbilisi of the Public Broadcaster.

At the same time, two prominent opposition figures have rejected media speculation of tactical disagreements among the various opposition forces that have aligned to campaign for President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation and early presidential elections.

Speaking on April 16 at the ongoing protest rally in front of the parliament building, Irakli Melashvili of the National Forum announced that April 21 will mark the beginning of the "final phase" of the push to constrain Saakashvili to step down. He said the opposition plans to mobilize supporters in a dozen provincial cities, including Kutaisi, Batumi, Gori, and Zugdidi, who will converge on Tbilisi to join the protests there.

A second leading National Forum member, Gubaz Sanikidze, was quoted by Caucasus Press on April 16 as saying that as of April 21, "Georgian society will start to act dynamically and aggressively as never before.... Centers of protest and tension will be created all over Georgia." Levan Gachechiladze, the former businessman who was Saakashvili's main challenger in the January 2008 presidential election, affirmed for his part that as of next week the opposition "will move towards more radicalism." The press service of the opposition Conservative Party informed the website kavkaz-uzel.ru that the renewed opposition protest actions will continue until April 30.

Also on April 16, opposition Alliance for Georgia head Irakli Alasania categorically rejected speculation that his readiness to "listen to the proposals of the authorities on how they envisage overcoming the crisis" reflects a major tactical difference with other opposition groups that insist that Saakashvili's resignation is the only topic on which they are prepare to embark on a dialogue with the authorities. He stressed that readiness for dialogue should not be seen as readiness "to cut a deal" with the authorities. Former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze implied that the authorities themselves are sowing such rumors because they "want to cause a split in the opposition ... through various methods."

It was with the aim of both promoting dialogue and averting a further increase in tensions that EU special envoy Peter Semneby travelled on April 16 to Tbilisi, where he met with leading oppositionists. Semneby told RFE/RL's Georgian Service after those talks that "I think it should be in the interests of both parties that this confrontation is transformed into a dialogue. I don't think it's in the interest of the opposition that the rally just fizzles out. The manifestation has given the opposition some leverage. I think this leverage will not last forever so it should be in their interest to use it in a constructive way while it lasts.

"It's also not in the interest of the government that this rally ends without the fundamental, underlying issues being resolved. Because if this is the case then I fear that we will be back to this in, I don't know how many months -- three, four, six, 12. This is an opportunity to break this cycle that Georgia has been going through now for a long, long time of resolving issues in the streets."

At the same time, Semneby implicitly rejected the opposition's maximalist demand for Saakashvili's resignation, as counterproductive and unrealistic.

"Of course, there are some concessions that are necessary on both sides and certainly the advice that we have been giving, that others have been giving, is that the primary aim of the demonstrators -- the immediate resignation of the president -- should be put aside," Semneby said. "I'm not saying that they should give up this. It's a legitimate right in any democracy to make any political demand that keeps within the constitutional framework. But in order to make sure that we have a dialogue it will, of course, not be helpful to have as the primary aim that the immediate departure of your negotiation partner. So, while this demand can of course remain, there has to be at the same time a dialogue on constitutional issues, on electoral issues, and so on, which will have to involve all the major political forces in Georgia."

Semneby sounded cautiously optimistic at the prospects of reaching some kind of consensus. "I think that all sides are aware of what is at stake here. This is really about the future of Georgia, how Georgia is governed; about reaching a consensus about the rules of the game so that the political discussion can focus not primarily on procedural issues but on substantive issues like the economy, like social issues, and so on. I have a strong sense that most of those who are involved here, who have a stake in this, also realize their responsibility for the future of Georgia."

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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