Opposition protests resumed in Tbilisi on April 21 after the four-day Easter break, but the number of participants -- some 10,000 -- fell far short of the 200,000 that protest leaders hope to mobilize over the next 10 days in what one of them last week termed "the final stage" of the campaign to pressure President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.
Meanwhile, the prospects for dialogue between the authorities and the opposition appear as remote as ever, with the two sides insisting on mutually exclusive agendas.
Following a rally outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi on April 21, several opposition leaders headed for the provinces. Former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze said they hope to gather thousands of additional supporters who will converge on Tbilisi later this week.
At the same time, opposition leaders announced that in addition to the permanent pickets outside the parliament, the presidential residence, and the offices of the public broadcaster, they will begin setting up more mock prison cells on Rustaveli Avenue and outside government buildings. Alliance for Georgia leader Irakli Alasania stressed that all protest participants will act strictly in accordance with the Georgian Constitution.
Alasania was also quoted
on April 21 as reaffirming that the opposition stands by its original demand for Saakashvili's resignation, and that an early parliamentary election is not an acceptable alternative. "Today, in a situation where our and the society's demands are totally ignored and the response our offer of dialogue is violence, naturally the demand for an early presidential election is the only issue in the agenda," he said during an April 21 interview with Tbilisi-based Kavkasia TV.
Alasania reiterated the opposition's readiness for dialogue, saying, "we are ready to listen to the president [explain] what he thinks the way out of this crisis might be." He dismissed as "an imitation of dialogue" the authorities' response thus far.
At the same time, Alasania downplayed the personal element in the standoff, insisting that "we are not fighting against [specific] individuals; our goal is to change the current system...and if the authorities take real, tangible steps in this direction we will only welcome those steps."
Also on April 21, parliament speaker Davit Bakradze met with a group of well-known civic activists and cultural figures who reportedly agreed unanimously on the need for dialogue.
But the Georgian leadership rejects any talks on Saakashvili's resignation, proposing instead discussion of the economic and national security situation and of various initiatives aimed at political liberalization. At a session of the parliament bureau the same day, Bakradze said the authorities are still ready for dialogue, and he deplored the radical opposition's imputed rejection of it.
On April 20, Caucasus Press quoted deputy parliament speaker Mikheil Machavariani as saying Saakashvili is ready to meet and talk with opposition leaders, but not in front of television cameras.