Georgian Opposition Protests Against Allegedly Rigged Elections | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.01.2008
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Georgian Opposition Protests Against Allegedly Rigged Elections

Georgia remains bitterly divided one week after President Mikhail Saakashvili won re-election. Ten of thousands of protestors braved plummeting temperatures to demonstrate against what they see as a corrupt vote.

Protestors in the center of Tbilisi, Georgia

Over 35,000 opposition supporters chanted for their man, Levan Gachechiladze

Around 35,000 supporters of the Georgian opposition protested in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on Sunday, Jan. 13, against a presidential election they say leader Mikhail Saakashvili rigged.

Many of the demonstrators, wearing white neck scarves -- a symbol adopted by the opposition after the Jan. 5 election -- shouted slogans decrying the results of the poll which they claim were falsified by Saakashvili's party.

"The people haven't given Saakashvili a vote of confidence," opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze told reporters in Tbilisi. "The Saakashvili regime will not be able to lead the country for long. We will fight to the end."

Saakashvili won 53.4 percent of the vote in the election, while Gachechiladze, his closest rival, got 25.6 percent, Interfax quoted the state election commission as saying.

Opposition questions legitimacy

While western monitors approved the vote, which they said was competitive and broadly fair despite violations, the opposition said it had been fixed. "We need justice and need a second round," Gachechiladze told the protesters.

"Long live Levan," the crowd responded. "Long live Georgia."

Mikhail Saakashvili

Saakashvili was awarded election victory a week ago

Georgia's election commission on Jan. 6 officially declared Saakashvili the winner of the controversial presidential elections in the Caucasus republic.

A mountainous country about the size of Ireland, the former Soviet state sits at the center of a volatile region hosting a pipeline pumping oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe and is the scene of a power struggle between the United States and Russia.

Saakashvili's aggressively pro-Western agenda has angered Russia and former communists in his own country who have opposed his liberal economic policies and reforms -- which have attracted sizeable foreign investment and economic growth of up to 12 percent a year -- and his push for Georgia to become a member of both NATO and the European Union.

President accused of corruption

Many Georgians say they have missed out on the economic boom that Saakashvili, a staunch US ally, claims the country has enjoyed since he swept to power as a result of the so-called "Rose Revolution," the peaceful change of political power in 2003. Saakashvili is accused of running a corrupt, elitist government which has handled the economy poorly.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters in downtown Tbilisi

Many of the protestors claim Saakashvili is corrupt

Saakashvili's supporters say the opposition's accusation that the presidential vote was fixed is just the bleating of desperate opponents who know they have lost.

The election and the protests are being held up as evidence of how divided the Georgian population has become since electing Saakashvili president with around 96 percent support in 2004.

Saakashvili is to be sworn in to a new term of office either on Jan. 20 or 21.

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