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Georgia's Saakashvili Warns Rivals Against Unrest

President Mikheil Saakashvili says it is "no time for radicalism."
TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has called for dialogue with the opposition but warned it against trying to force his overthrow in antigovernment protests next month.

The pro-Western president has come under increasing pressure since the former Soviet state's disastrous defeat by Russia in a five-day war last year. The opposition is demanding he resign.

Police last week arrested 10 men and said they had uncovered a plot to ignite unrest during opposition rallies due to begin on April 9.

"This is no time for radicalism, this is a time for dialogue," Saakashvili said late on March 28. "Now is not the time for chaos and wrangling, but for unity."

For days, pro-government television stations have been airing secretly filmed police video of the suspects, alleged to have links to the opposition, buying automatic weapons and discussing plans to take on security forces in Tbilisi.

The opposition denies planning armed unrest, and has accused the authorities of a smear campaign designed to undermine the drive to unseat Saakashvili.

Criticism of Saakashvili's record on democracy since coming to power in the peaceful 2003 "Rose Revolution" has deepened since Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway region of South Ossetia in August.

Police Death Near South Ossetia

Meanwhile, tensions around the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia remain high. A Georgian police officer was killed on March 29 near the de facto border zone in what police said was a land-mine blast.

Saakashvili warned rivals not to test the government's resolve.

"No one should be under any illusion that the state is weakened," he said. "We will protect society, we will preserve peace in Georgia.

"The revanchists will not change anything in Georgia. It is a completely different era, it is not 1991," Saakashvili said in reference to the armed overthrow of Georgia's first post-Soviet president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

The influential Georgian Orthodox Church joined calls for restraint, issuing a statement on March 29 warning that tensions were reaching "critical level."