Georgia’s opposition are taking to the streets of the capital Tbilisi for a mass anti-government protest. Tens of thousands of people have come out to demand President Saakashvili step down.
The protesters issued the following statement:
“Saakashvili is obliged to allow the people to constitutionally realize a peaceful change of government, and show to the whole world that Georgia is capable of creating a free, democratic, fair, and strong state”.
So far, no clashes have been reported. However, many fear government forces might resort to violence to disperse protesters, just as in 2007.
Security has been stepped up.
According to the organizers, over 150 thousand protesters have made their way through the central streets of the Georgian capital to the parliament building. They claim they are going to stay there until Saakashvili gives in to their demands.
The opposition have promised the rallies will be peaceful, and there won’t be any serious provocations from their side. And, according to some of them, the government doesn’t have the resources to crack down on protesters.
So, although it's uncertain at present what is going to happen, many locals believe that there are changes imminent in the country.
There are also reports that people are experiencing problems accessing international websites, and using messaging software.
Georgia's major internet provider, Caucasus Online, has blamed the cuts on a serious hardware failure, but it is rumoured that access has been limited due to the planned rallies.
Reasons to protest
Georgia's opposition parties believe that President Saakashvili’s policies have brought the country to a deadlock.
According to Salome Zurabishvili, one of Georgia’s opposition leaders, the president is unable to manage the economy and get back the trust of the population, “which is an integral part of being able to govern the country."
Nino Burdzhanadze, the ex-speaker of the Gerogian parliament has apologized to the country’s population for not taking enough of a stance during the meeting on the 7th of November, 2007.
She stated that she takes part of the blame for those who suffered as a result of police violence during that action.
Burdzhanadze also affirmed that:
“Mikhail Saakashvili should resign from his presidential post, because the people of Georgia cannot trust him with anything”.
The Georgian leadership, however, said, "The question of resignation of the president of Georgia – a country with a population of 4.5 million people – cannot and shouldn't be solved by 150,000 participants in the protest rally."
Saakashvili said he won't resign until his presidential term officially ends in 2013.
Why April 9?
On April 9, 1989, a mass anti-Soviet rally was held in Tbilisi, the capital of what was then the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. The demonstrators were dispersed by the Army, resulting in 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Now the Day of National Unity is marked in Georgia on April, 9.
This morning, the president was at the parliament building. He laid flowers at a memorial to those who died 20 years ago during an anti-Soviet demonstration, and noted that it’s “a democratic country, and every person can have their own opinion."
But, he went on, “we need the unity of our motherland."
“We need to build a democratic, free, European state. This is what people died for under Russian tanks, and also last year during the conflict with Russia. This is what they fought for – the freedom and unity of Georgia,” Saakashvili said.