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Security forces outside the Georgian parliament building
Observers hope the call for new elections will help put an end to Georgia's political crisisImage: AP

Political Crisis

DW staff (jp)
November 8, 2007

Georgia has been put under a 15-day state of emergency after ongoing clashes between riot police and protesters demanding the resignation of the president, who has called for new elections in early January.


In a televised address on Thursday, Nov. 8, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili he set a date of Jan. 5, media reports from the capital Tbilisi said. Saakashvili said he decided to hold the vote, originally scheduled for late 2008, "to receive the trust of the people."

"I, as president of this nation, take this decision and make this proposal to hold a vote of confidence on my mandate, to receive unambiguous support from you to continue building our country," he said.

"The president's statement is a victory for the Georgian people," said David Zurabishvili, one of the leaders of the Democratic Front. "The role of the opposition was only to bring the idea of the people to the president."

The opposition is now conferring to find a candidate to run against Saakashvili.

According to the Georgian constitution, the president is elected for a five-year term and the early election will still require parliamentary approval. A pro-Saakashvili majority in parliament is expected to quickly endorse his decision.

After six days of opposition protests, Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said on Wednesday that Saakashvili had declared a state of emergency in the capital Tbilisi because of "an attempt at a state coup."

Meanwhile, Economic Development Minister Georgi Arvaladze said in a televised statement that Saakashvili had imposed restrictions on public gatherings and the media, closing all television networks except state-controlled stations.

Post-revolution disillusionment

An opposition supporter stands under a giant Georgian flag during a rally
Demonstrators have been calling for new elections for daysImage: AP

The move came after a further day of running battles between riot police and demonstrators demanding the resignation of Saakashvili, who came to power in the peaceful 2003 "Rose Revolution." The violence erupted when unarmed police attempted to disperse a rally on Rustaveli Avenue near parliament, in the center of the ancient city.

Accusing the president of corruption, political killings and failing to address widespread poverty in the country, the protestors had called for early elections.

"We are demanding Saakashvili's resignation after such terrible and savage use of force," said Levan Berdenishvili, a leader of the opposition. "Such uncivilized methods cannot be allowed by any state."

Saakashvili has repeatedly stressed that he will not resign and said he intends to run for re-election.

"I, as the leader of this nation, need your mandate to cope with any external threat, to manage any pressure and to do away with an attempt to annex Georgia's territory," he said.

The AFP news agency reported that according to health officials, some 500 people had been hospitalized Wednesday after clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons. Most were released after being treated for minor injuries and exposure to tear gas.

Later, the pro-opposition Imedi television station went off air after an anchor said that government special forces had entered the broadcaster's building.

"Anti-Russian hysteria"

Security forces getting ready for clashes
Protests started a week agoImage: AP

"High-ranking officials in Russian special services are behind this," said Saakashvili in a televised national address, adding that they were "trying to gain a foothold among some of the radical opposition parties."

Saakashvili announced that several Russian diplomats would be expelled for engaging in "subversive, espionage activity in Georgia." Three diplomats were due for expulsion, according to Interfax news agency.

Dismissing the claims as "anti-Russian hysteria," the Russian foreign ministry described the accusations as irresponsible and said that any expulsion of Russian diplomats would elicit an "appropriate response."

Georgia, which frequently accuses Russia of causing trouble in the former Soviet republic which has cultivated close ties with Washington in recent years, also recalled its ambassador from Moscow, the foreign ministry revealed.

Staunchly pro-Western, Saakashvili has angered Moscow with his push to join NATO and his attempts to regain sovereignty over two breakaway pro-Russian provinces.

International concern

Mikhail Saakashvili
Saakashvili gave in to protesters' demandsImage: AP

The White House said it was "concerned" by the unrest in Georgia, urging the government and opposition to resolve their differences peacefully and to shun steps that could provoke violence.

"Neither side ... should take any steps that would be deliberately provocative to the other and could lead to violence," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, called for restraint, saying "political differences should be resolved within the democratic institutions."

Brussels plans to send its special envoy for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, to Georgia.

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