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Georgian Opposition Mulls More Radical Forms Of Protest

The opposition rally at the National Stadium in Tbilisi drew 55,000.
Seven weeks after the Georgian opposition launched its campaign to force President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign, up to 55,000 people congregated at a soccer stadium in Tbilisi on May 26 in support of that demand. Despite dwindling participation at their protest actions in recent weeks, opposition leaders had said earlier they hoped to mobilize 100,000 protesters.

It is unclear, however, whether and for how long that upsurge of popular support for the opposition can be sustained, especially in light of growing tactical disagreements between radical and moderate opposition leaders.

Some participants in the May 26 rally subsequently attended a religious service conducted by Patriarch Ilia II, who appealed to the opposition to reconsider their demand that Saakashvili step down. That appeal, predictably, fell on deaf ears. Former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze responded that "we are not going to step back.... We will continue our legitimate, but very active struggle because we cannot tolerate authorities that are not legitimate."

Several thousand protesters then congregated outside the parliament building to discuss future plans. Among the "radical" options discussed were resuming picketing the Public Broadcaster; blockading the main train station and Tbilisi airport; or issuing an ultimatum to Saakashvili to resign within 24 hours.

Burjanadze, together with three other prominent opposition figures (New Rightists leader David Gamkrelidze, Eka Beselia of the movement For A United Georgia, and former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili), then led a march to the main Tbilisi railway station where several dozen of their supporters sat down on the tracks and prevented for several hours the departure of a passenger service to the Black Sea port of Batumi. Gamkrelidze warned early on May 27 that the opposition would resume blocking the rail tracks if the authorities refused to agree to talks on Saakashvili's resignation.

Irakli Alasania of the opposition Alliance for Georgia distanced himself on May 26 from any blockades of highways or rail tracks, while reaffirming his continued readiness to cooperate with his opposition colleagues in other forms of protest. Speaking late on May 25 on the independent Maestro TV, Alasania said the opposition should continue its activities on three separate fronts: focusing protests more narrowly on specific issues, and seeking to drum up greater support in the provinces; engaging in dialogue with the authorities on the six-point memorandum the opposition unveiled on May 18; and intensifying contacts with the international community.

Also on May 25, the U.S. and the European Union issued a joint statement appealing to the opposition "to end the current stalemate on the streets and begin negotiations immediately and without preconditions on a new program of reforms to invigorate Georgia's democracy." On May 27, former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was quoted as telling the daily newspaper "Akhali taoba" that Saakashvili's resignation is the only way to prevent the ongoing standoff from escalating into bloodshed.

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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