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Georgian Opposition Doubts Claims Of Military Coup

Georgia's opposition has cast doubt on the government's claims of a Russia-backed coup attempt.
Having failed to mobilize more than a few thousand people in support of their demands for President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation, Georgian opposition leaders announced on May 2 a planned change of tactics, beginning on May 4.

They see the announcement by the Georgian authorities on May 5 of an alleged Russian-orchestrated military coup by a tank battalion stationed at the Mukhrovani military base as a crude attempt to thwart their plans to block temporarily major access roads to Tbilisi. Mukhrovani was the scene of two earlier mutinies, in 2001 and 2004.

Conservative Party leader Zviad Dzidziguri told journalists in Tbilisi on May 2 that the opposition protests will continue "for another two-three weeks," during which protest actions will be extended to other major towns. He said a mass march of opposition supporters from western Georgia to Tbilisi is also planned.

On May 3, former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili said that the opposition intends as "a warning signal" to block major highways leading to Tbilisi for one hour, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. local time on May 5. Gubaz Sanikidze of the National Forum added that the opposition would begin blocking the major east-west highway on May 8. At the same time, Sanikidze said, they will give Saakashvili three days to begin talks with them on the terms for his resignation.

The Georgian authorities responded with a warning to the opposition to end its pickets on Tbilisi's main thoroughfare by May 16 and remove the mock prison cells it has erected there.

Dzidziguri announced on May 5 that the opposition would not proceed with the planned blockade of highways leading to Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. He said they will wait for two-three days until the reports of the coup are "clarified." He went on to accuse Saakashvili of "using the army for political purposes, to obstruct the planned blocking of the highways." He said the opposition does not believe "for one moment" the claims of Russian involvement in the coup.

It is not clear whether the Georgian leadership will adduce the botched Mukhrovani coup as the rationale for withdrawing its repeated offers to the opposition to discuss political liberalization, or even for imposing a state of emergency that would ban public gatherings.

Prior to leaving Tbilisi on May 4 after his second visit in two weeks, the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, again called for a dialogue between the two sides. "Street demonstrations are good for democracy. This is a legal way to express protest. The authorities should take the protesters seriously. There are points that they could take into consideration," Caucasus Press quoted Semneby as saying.

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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