Protest singer leads new push to get rid of Saakashvili

Monday Mar 30, 2009
Matthew Collin
Georgia, which fought a disastrous war with Russia over South Ossetia last year, is bracing itself for a political showdown as the Opposition tries to oust President Mikheil Saakashvili amid simmering discontent over his role in the conflict.

 The Opposition will take to the streets of Tbilisi to demand Saakashvili’s resignation on April 9 – the 20th anniversary of the day when the Soviet Army killed some 20 people as it crushed Georgian independence demonstrations.

 -Saakashvili posters have appeared all over the capital, while the Opposition has also been boosted by a television show featuring a popular singer conducting interviews with Opposition activists and local celebrities from a specially constructed "prison cell".

The protest singer Giorgi Gachechiladze – known as Utsnobi, or "The Unknown" – has said he will remain in self-imposed incarceration until Saakashvili steps down.

This month, Utsnobi held a protest concert near the President’s residence, drawing several thousand. The April 9 demonstrations are hoped to attract far greater numbers.

The Georgian authorities have accused the Opposition of accepting money from Russia to fund its anti-government campaign, although no proof has yet been offered.

They have also raised fears that mass protests next month could turn violent after several activists were detained last week on charges of illegally buying weapons and plotting a coup.

Officials have also claimed that Opposition leaders are aiding Georgia’s enemies in Moscow by creating political instability and trying to overthrow the country’s pro-Western Government.

"Directly or indirectly, they are doing the Kremlin’s work," said the Minister for Reintegration, Temuri Yakobashvili.

Several senior figures in Saakashvili’s Government have defected to the Opposition, accusing him of starting an unwinnable war that enabled Russia to strengthen its grip on the rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"He lost the war and 20 per cent of Georgian territory, hundreds of people died and tens of thousands lost their homes," said Nino Burjanadze, who was one of the leaders of the "Rose Revolution" in 2003 that swept Saakashvili to power.

"In any normal democratic country, the President would be impeached," said Burjanadze.

The mood in Tbilisi has become increasingly tense after the authorities released covertly recorded police videos of Opposition activists allegedly buying automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

"These tapes show there is a group of people who were thinking of toppling the Government by violence, and using the demonstration as the place to do it," said Yakobashvili.

But Burjanadze, whose activists were among those arrested, insisted that the authorities released the tapes to intimidate Opposition supporters.

"They understand that a lot of people will come to the protests and they decided to frighten them and discredit my party and the opposition," she said.

Burjanadze suggested there could be a repeat of the crackdown on Opposition rallies in November 2007, when similar surveillance videos of alleged coup plotters were also widely publicised.

"We are absolutely sure that what the Government and the President are doing is preparing an alibi so they can justify using force against people," she said.

Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze claimed there was funding coming from Russia; "we have some factual evidence of that". She declined to elaborate further, but few in Georgia will be surprised if more controversial surveillance tapes emerge.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s