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Saakashvili opponents to protest

TBILISI, October 21 – Georgia’s opposition has called on supporters to rally in Tbilisi on November 7, the first anniversary of a crackdown on anti-government protesters, Georgian newspapers reported Tuesday.

The protest call marks the first sign of opposition activity since the war with Russia in August over the rebel region of South Ossetia.

Opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze, who failed to unseat President Mikheil Saakashvili in a presidential election earlier this year, said the rally outside parliament would call for his resignation, the daily Akhali Taoba (New Generation) reported.

"Georgia has lost territories. The blood of Georgian soldiers and of the Georgian people has been spilled. This is why we must be together on November 7 and save our country," the newspaper quoted Gachechiladze as saying.

The daily Rezonansi said the Conservative Party, United Georgia, the Labour Party and the New Rights party would all participate in the protest.

A co-leader of the Conservative Party, Kakha Kukava, indicated that the opposition would seek to continue rallying after the first protest.

"Mass protest rallies will start on November 7. There is a mountain of questions the authorities must answer," he was quoted as saying by Rezonansi.

It was unclear whether Nino Burjanadze, a former Saakashvili loyalist who resigned as speaker of parliament earlier this year and who has raised questions about his handling of the conflict, would take part in the protest.

Wary of appearing unpatriotic, opposition leaders in Georgia announced a moratorium on criticising Saakashvili at the beginning of the conflict, which saw Russian forces pour into Georgia after the Georgian army attempted to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

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But Saakashvili has faced increasing criticism since Russian forces withdrew to within South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia.

Tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets last year for anti-government protests, forcing Saakashvili to call a snap presidential election after riot police violently dispersed demonstrators.

Divided and lacking a charismatic leader, Georgia’s opposition has repeatedly failed to mount a serious challenge to Saakashvili since he swept to power after the peaceful protests of the Rose Revolution in 2003.

Saakashvili won January’s snap presidential vote in a single round of voting and his United National Movement party swept parliamentary elections a few months later.

Analysts say Burjanadze is one of the few Georgian politicians with the clout and experience to mount a serious challenge.


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