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Opposition plan more protests, EU calls for talks

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, May 18
The opposition have announced that they will make the demonstrations more “acute” and will continue with them until Mikheil Saakashvili resigns. They have now begun holding rallies in Tbilisi’s suburbs demanding President Saakashvili’s resignation, and say these will lead up to a big rally on May 26, Independence Day. Representatives of the non-Parliamentary opposition, who have been protesting in the streets for five weeks already, say that “serious” protest rallies will also be held in the Georgian regions from May 20.

Mamuka Katsitadze from the New Rights, which is part of the Alliance for Georgia, has said that Giorgi Gachechiladze (Utsnobi) will hold the first demonstration in Batumi on May 20, followed by rallies in other major towns of Georgia, including Kutaisi, Khashuri, Gori and Mtskheta. Katsitadze said on May 26 that the demonstrators will gather at the National Stadium and march to Rustaveli Avenue. “May 26 2009 will be the first national holiday celebrated by the Georgian people and not the political elite,” Katsitadze stated. He was speaking at the demonstration held close to the Isani Metro Station.

“We have started preparing for May 26. We should show the whole world on that day that we are not tired and will continue protesting until Saakashvili resigns,” former Presidential candidate and prominent opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze told demonstrators gathered in Didube on Saturday. Gachechiladze refuted allegations about a “split” in the opposition. “The whole opposition spectrum is standing together, there is no doubt about it,” he said. Zurab Abashidze from the Alliance for Georgia also said that “the opposition will win only if it stays united.” “The Government is fighting with repressive methods in order to split us and divert us from our joint aim, however the Government will not be able to do this,” Abashidze said, adding that although the political parties have different ideologies, “this is not a pre-election period and therefore not time to highlight these differences.”

The opposition have called on the residents of Tbilisi to “unite around such values as the motherland.” Some leaders have claimed that, although polls conducted by the opposition in Tbilisi indicate that about 80% of Tbilisi residents support Saakashvili’s resignation, “about half of those 80% are very indifferent.” “We should mobilize them,” Gachechiladze said in Isani, adding that “if Saakashvili stays, Georgia will be ruined.”

Meanwhile, some leaders of the “radical” opposition have met EU Special Representative in the South Caucasus Peter Semneby and the head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Georgia, Per Eklund. Following an hour-long meeting Peter Semneby told journalists that the main issue discussed was the negotiations between the opposition and the President. Semneby stressed that the political conflict should develop into a “political process”, which means the resolving of issues through dialogue. Semneby said a lack of trust has hindered the process of negotiations and called on both sides to demonstrate a “serious approach” to this issue. “These issues are important not only for Georgia but the international community. The EU is following very closely what is happening here and I want to make sure that whatever the outcome is, it will bring Georgia forward towards the democratic reforms that need to be undertaken in the country,” Semneby said.

David Usupashvili from the Republican Party said that the opposition had presented the diplomats with the document about the “second wave of democracy” in Georgia, initiated by the President in September last year, which according to Usupashvili is “identical” to the five-point proposal made by the President at the recent meeting with opposition leaders. “There is nothing new. The President has been talking about these issues for eight months already. However he takes no action. We do not consider this proposal a serious way to resolve the crisis,” Usupashvili noted.

Usupashvili did not exclude holding another round of talks with the President “if his proposals become adequate.” Salome Zourabichvili from the Way of Georgia also said that talks with Saakashvili might continue. “Holding a second round of talks depends on many factors,” she said.

The leader of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia, Nino Burjanadze, was more radical than her colleagues. She said she does not see any sense in continuing the talks. “I have expressed my point of view: I do not see any grounds for continuing this dialogue, especially after what happened at the meeting with the President. There is no purpose in this dialogue apart from it being an attempt by the Government to raise doubts in the Georgian population, calm the protests down and solve the problem that way,” Burjanadze said after the meeting.