Mass protests in Georgia aim to unseat Saakashvili
As many as 100,000 people are expected to demonstrate Thursday against the president.
Moscow; and Tbilisi, Georgia
A coalition of 13 Georgian political opposition parties will take to the streets of Tbilisi Thursday to stage open-ended demonstrations aimed at unseating President Mikheil Saakashvili, whom they accuse of betraying the promise of 2003's "Rose Revolution," building a personal dictatorship, causing mass impoverishment, and leading the country into a disastrous war with Russia last summer.Skip to next paragraph
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The prospect of mass protests has raised fears about the stability of Georgia, a troubled nation of 5 million straddling the Caucasus Mountains. Despite cyclical street revolts since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991, Georgia has never yet managed to effect a constitutional handover of power from one president to the next.
Mr. Saakashvili's opponents say they will bring as many as 100,000 people into Tbilisi's main street Thursday, the biggest display of public anger since three weeks of rolling demonstrations forced former president Eduard Shevardnadze to resign nearly six years ago.
But experts say that the opposition groups are deeply divided over goals and tactics, while Saakashvili, who was reelected to a five-year term in 2008, holds a strong position. If the young, US-trained leader does not give in to the temptation to use violence against the demonstrators – as happened in November 2007, when Saakashvili ordered police to crush protests and shut down critical media outlets, triggering a sharp political backlash – he has good chances of riding out this storm, they say.
"This is a power struggle, part of the turbulent political processes begun by the Rose Revolution, when a young, ambitious and arrogant [Saakashvili] came to power and began radical reforms," says Alexander Rondeli, president of the independent Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi. "He managed to create many enemies for himself because of his stubborness and revolutionary methods ... these [reforms] were painful for society; social discontent has been growing constantly. It's difficult to adapt to change."
Former allies oppose Saakashvili
The roster of opposition leaders includes several former close allies of Saakashvili who have turned against him amid charges that he was concentrating too much power in his own hands, fixing elections, lavishing rewards upon his business cronies, and secretly plotting a military adventure to retake Georgia's separatist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which ended in defeat last August.
Among them are:
• Former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze, head of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia, who is calling for indefinite protests until her former comrade from the Rose Revolution, Saakashvili, steps down.
• Ex-Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, who heads the Georgia's Way party.