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Georgian Opposition Gears Up For New Mass Protest

Georgian opposition leaders at the Zugdidi rally
Georgian opposition leaders at the Zugdidi rally
The Georgian opposition is hoping to mobilize up to 100,000 supporters on May 26 -- the anniversary of the proclamation in 1918 of an independent Georgian republic -- in support of their demands for President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation. Speaking on May 24 on Public Television, New Rightists leader David Gamkrelidze said May 26 will be "full of surprises," both for Saakashvili and for the public at large. He did not elaborate. The opposition has also submitted a formal request on May 21 to the Tbilisi municipal authorities to continue their permanent protests at several places in the city for a further month, until June 26.

Hopes of massive participation at the Tbilisi protest on May 26 may well prove to be utopian, however. Fewer people than anticipated turned out on May 21 for a protest demonstration in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi. An analogous protest in Gori on May 24 was called off when none of the town's residents showed up to meet the column of opposition members' cars (numbering around 500) that had driven across the country from Batumi, blocking traffic on the main easy-west highway for 30 minutes in a token protest en route.

Gamkrelidze declined on May 24 either to confirm or deny that the 12 opposition parties coordinating the ongoing wave of protests will announce on May 26 their joint support for a single opposition leader. Republican Party member David Zurabishvili told journalists on May 23 that they were discussing the possibility of doing so.

The various Western diplomats and envoys who have met repeatedly with both opposition and government representatives over the past six weeks reportedly advocate selecting a single leader, presumably because on numerous occasions since the protests began on April 9 opposition figures have made diverging, even conflicting statements about their intentions and the conditions on which they would agree to dialogue with the authorities. But Irakli Alasania, the leader of the Alliance for Georgia of which the New Rightists are a member, said on May 25 that the opposition will almost certainly not announce a single leader as they see no need to do so.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties represented in parliament nominated on May 22 independent lawyer Avtandil Demetrashvili to chair the commission proposed by Saakashvili on May 11 that will draft a new constitution. Parliament speaker David Bakradze indicated his approval, characterizing Demetrashvili as well-qualified both as a lawyer and as a specialist on constitutional law. Demetrashvili for his part was quoted on May 22 by Caucasus Press as saying that "it is necessary to create a balanced political system with a strong president as arbiter and a strong parliament." The commission is to begin work later this week.

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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