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Georgian Opposition Says Protest 'Cells' Attacked

Protesters have set up the empty cells around central Tbilisi.
TBILISI (Reuters) -- Mock prison cells set up by opposition protesters in Georgia outside the office of President Mikheil Saakashvili were smashed overnight, but police have denied opposition accusations of involvement.

It was the latest incident in an opposition campaign in the former Soviet republic demanding Saakashvili resign over his record on democracy and last year's disastrous war with Russia.

Almost 10 weeks into the campaign, protest turnout is waning and opposition unity is being tested.

The opposition argues the cells are symbolic of the "police state" they say Georgia has become under Saakashvili since he came to power on the back of the 2003 Rose Revolution.

Protest leader Eka Beselia said on June 19 groups of men, some in police uniforms, smashed the cells outside Saakashvili's office, beat opposition activists, and took several away.

"We demand an immediate investigation," Beselia told Reuters. "Our supporters restored some of the cells. This will continue," she said.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said police had responded to a disturbance. "A fight broke out after an argument between participants of the protest and local residents," he said, adding that six people had been detained.

The main focus of the opposition campaign is the capital's central Rustaveli Avenue in front of parliament, which remains blocked by dozens of cells. The opposition accuses Saakashvili of monopolizing power, but he has resisted calls to quit.

The opposition on June 18 accused tax police of closing down the company producing the cells. A police spokeswoman said she was unaware of the closure.