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Georgia's President declares a state of emergency

Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution, suspended liberties in the face of street protests.

By / November 8, 2007

Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, on Wednesday night declared a 15-day state of emergency following six days of violent clashes between riot police and protesters in the state capital of Tbilisi. The demonstrators were demanding the president resign, and the protests are seen as the most serious challenge to Saakashvili since he came to power in the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution.

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However, in an apparent response to criticism of his actions, president Saakashvili on Thursday announced special presidential elections for Jan. 5, reports The New York Times. A referendum would be held the same day for the timing of parliamentary elections, Saakashvili said.

Mr. Saakashvili's surprise announcement appeared to be an effort to bring a swift end to the domestic unrest and growing international condemnation over the clashes on Wednesday on the streets of Tbilisi, the country's capital.
The announcement effectively shaves nearly a year off his presidential term, and marks a sharp shift from his emphatic refusal to change election dates or compromise with opposition demands.

On Wednesday, authorities said the president had declared the emergency because of "an attempt at a state coup," reports German news site Deutsche Welle. The government also announced restrictions "on public gatherings and the media, closing all television networks except state-controlled stations."

The move came after a further day of running battles between riot police and demonstrators demanding the resignation of Saakashvili … 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 are calling for early elections.

The riots erupted when police tried to disperse a small group of protesters gathered in front of the Georgian parliament building, reports Radio Free Europe. "Baton-wielding police moved in to evict the group of about 100 people, including about 10 hunger strikers," it reports.

That action led to scuffles, and several opposition activists were detained.
… But shortly after the area was cleared in the early-morning action, protesters and opposition leaders returned in the thousands to once again block the avenue.
Hundreds of riot police moved in, shouting warnings to protesters over speakerphones that "legal actions will be deployed against you" if they did not disperse. When protesters failed to heed the demand, police moved in.

Riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, reports the Associated Press.

… The clash was captured live on Georgian and Russian television, which showed protesters with bandannas and surgical masks pelting police with rocks from a bridge.
More than 500 people sought medical assistance in the running clashes throughout the day, and nearly 100 remained hospitalized, the Health Ministry said.