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Georgia Protesters Intensify Push To Oust President

Georgian protestors rally near the parliament building on April 10
TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgian opposition leaders have said they would move daily street protests to President Mikheil Saakashvili's office as they fight to maintain momentum in a campaign to force his resignation.

Some 20,000 people demonstrated on April 13 outside parliament in the former Soviet republic on the fifth day of their protest.

The opposition leaders said they would keep up continuous protests until Saakashvili quit over his record on democracy and last year's disastrous war with Russia.

"That way he will hear our voices much more loudly," said Kakha Kukava, one of more than a dozen opposition leaders taking part in the campaign.

Turnout dipped over the weekend and there were signs that some opposition leaders were looking to hold talks with the president on finding a way out of the stand-off.

Some 60,000 people rallied at the start of the campaign on April 9, followed by 20,000 the next day, blocking Tbilisi's central avenue and the main roads running past the president's office and the public broadcaster.

Critics accuse Saakashvili, who came to power on the back of the 2003 Rose Revolution, of monopolizing power and exerting pressure on the judiciary and the media.

Last year's war, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia, has emboldened opponents who say the 41-year-old leader has made too many mistakes to remain in power until 2013.

But analysts doubt the opposition can remain united or muster the numbers over a sustained period to force him out.

Despite the defection of some senior allies and repeated cabinet reshuffles since the war, Saakashvili's position appears to remain strong.

The West, which receives oil via Georgia from the Caspian Sea, is watching the situation closely. In November 2007, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the last peaceful mass demonstrations against Saakashvili.

Diplomats say a protracted stand-off risks sparking unrest.

The European Union's special envoy for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, has been trying to broker a dialogue, but opposition leaders have sent mixed signals about their readiness to talk.

"People like Semneby have been talking to them," a senior government source told Reuters. "There are stirrings, but they haven't settled on anything yet."