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Opposition planning street protests as government negotiations get underway

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Tuesday, February 5
The opposition coalition will return to street protests, its leaders announced yesterday, in the midst of negotiations with the government over concessions which could soothe the country’s continuing political volatility.

At a press conference in front of parliament, opposition coalition representative Zviad Dzidziguri said they would hold a string of protests to gather signatures on a petition declaring, “I did not elect Saakashvili.”

A protest on Rustaveli Avenue on February 7, he said, would be followed by a rally at Tbilisi State University and an “exhibition of posters of those people who stole votes” in the January 5 presidential election.

President Mikheil Saakashvili narrowly won an outright majority on January 5. International observers said the election had significant problems but was essentially fair, while the opposition claim it was rigged and refuse to recognize Saakashvili as a legitimately elected president.

Dzidziguri said the opposition coalition would make a statement next week about a large-scale protest on February 15, the deadline they previously set for government concessions on their joint list of demands.

“How long these rallies continue depends on [the government] meeting our demands outlined in the memorandum,” he stated.

Yesterday opposition coalition leaders gathered for a day of consultations before today’s planned meeting with Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze, settling on the most important out of the 17 demands they listed on January 29.

The 17 demands range from introducing a proportional representation electoral system to the resignation of the Interior Minister and an investigation into the violent crackdown on anti-government protestors on November 7.

The opposition initially said that all 17 demands were crucial to holding fair parliamentary election in spring, and that none could be bargained away.

“These are the important issues, and without satisfying them we can’t have democratic elections. I suggest the government does not try to choose just one of them and ignore the others,” opposition coalition member Salome Zourabichvili said on January 29.

But now they are ready to bring a few key priorities to the table.

“We selected the most important issues [of the 17], about which we will hold talks,” Dzidziguri said yesterday, adding that those crucial issues will include the state-owned public broadcaster and the arrangement of the Central Election Commission.

Reached for comment after Dzidziguri’s statements, coalition member Gia Tortladze explained that those are the issues which can, practically speaking, be resolved sooner than some of the other opposition demands, most of which would require significant changes to the law.

Another statement clarifying the opposition’s position will be made after the meeting with Burjanadze, Tortladze said, insisting they would go ahead with a rally on February 15 regardless of what comes out of the talks.

The opposition coalition will have company. Labor, which broke from the nine-party opposition coalition during the presidential campaign to back party leader Shalva Natelashvili, who took 6.49 percent of the vote, will join the protests but not the negotiations.

Saying that the goal is to remove the “self-declared” President Mikheil Saakashvili from office, Labor representative Giorgi Gugava pledged his party would support any protest directed at that aim.