Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Tbilisi to protest against Russia's support of separatists in two Georgian regions. Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Tbilisi in civil wars in the early 1990s.
Around 30,000 people are reported to have turned out to the demonstration, held on one of Tbilisi's main thoroughfares on Saturday. Many carried Georgian, US or European flags, along with placards carrying slogans such as "stop (Russian President Vladimir) Putin."
Some also carried Ukrainian flags, in a show of solidarity with Kyiv, referring to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March. Kyiv and the West also accuse the Kremlin of supporting pro-Russia separatist rebels in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Exiled Saakashvili via video
The Georgian protesters had followed the call of the United National Movement party (UNM) of former President Mikeil Saakashvili, who addressed the gathering via video link-up from Ukraine.
The UNM has accused the current Georgian Dream coalition government of not doing enough to counter what it claims is Russia's creeping annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"We should show the government that our nation is united, even when it faces a big threat, and when it's about our freedom, future and independence," Saakashvili told the crowd.
The former president fled Georgia after leaving office a year ago, after which criminal charges were brought against him over allegations of abuse of power.
Saakashvili, who resides in self-imposed exile in the United States, claims to be the victim of a political witchhunt.
Common defence pact
The latest specific measure that has raised concerns in Tbilisi is a proposed treaty between Russia and Abkhazia, which would create a "common defense infrastructure" and combined armed forces. It is also meant to set up a "common economic and customs space."
Georgian opponents of the move argue that it would amount to a significant step towards Russia annexing Abkhazia.
Moscow recognized both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries after fighting a five-day war with Georgia in August 2008. Since then, thousands of Russian troops have been stationed in the two regions.
In a statement that appeared designed to deflect the opposition's criticism, the prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili said on Friday that the government was aware of the threat posed by the proposed Russia-Abkhazia deal and had asked the West for help in opposing it.
pfd/ipj (APE, Reuters, AFP)