Georgian Leader Faces Calls to Quit

By OLESYA VARTANYAN and ELLEN BARRY
Published: January 29, 2009

 

TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia’s scattered political opposition gathered on Thursday to demand the resignation of the president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and call for early presidential and parliamentary elections.

Among the figures backing the declaration were Nino Burjanadze, Mr. Saakashvili’s partner in the street revolution that brought him to power, and Irakli Alasania, who recently left his post as Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Since the war with Russia in August, there have been sporadic calls for impeachment or early elections, but no sign that Georgian citizens want to topple the government. The declaration on Thursday represented the broadest coalition of opposition groups to date, behind increasingly radical demands.

David Gamkrelidze, a chairman of the New Rights party, noted that three months ago, his party was alone in calling for the president’s resignation.

“Today almost all the political parties agree,” he said. “Every day more people and politicians understand that he has no capacity to overcome the crisis and that he is responsible for all these mistakes in Georgia and he must resign.”

Mr. Saakashvili’s popularity was at its lowest point in 2007, after the government used force to break up massive protest rallies. The war in Georgia, by contrast, focused attention on the threat from Russia and consolidated support behind Mr. Saakashvili; a poll commissioned by the leading National Movement in September found approval ratings at 76 percent. In a recent interview, he said those figures had slipped into the 60s.

Georgia has been buffeted by the global financial downturn, and Mr. Saakashvili’s political rivals have fiercely criticized him for leading the country into confrontation with Russia. They say Mr. Saakashvili’s style has become autocratic and intolerant of dissent. But the next round of parliamentary and parliamentary elections are years away, set for 2012 and 2013.

Olesya Vartanyan reported from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Ellen Barry reported from Moscow.

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