Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Georgian protesters call for president to resign

AP , TBILISI

A Georgian demonstrator argues with police during a rally of opposition supporters at the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Georgia's capital, demanding President Mikhail Saakashvili step down following the arrest of a former defense minister who accused the president of a murder plot.

The small, US-allied ex-Soviet republic was thrown into turmoil earlier this week, when the hawkish former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili charged that Saakashvili, his former ally, was corrupt and had encouraged him to kill a prominent businessman.

The stunning allegations came as already-soaring tensions between the Georgian government and the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia spiked further. Heavy gunfire between separatist and Georgian forces erupted on Thursday night in South Ossetia's main city and Abkhazian officials ordered heavy weaponry and extra troops deployed along the internal border separating Abkhazia and Georgia.

The turmoil is some of the worst to hit the poor Caucasus Mountain nation since Saakashvili was propelled to power in the 2003 mass uprising known as the Rose Revolution.

NEW PARTY

Saakashvili, who has been in New York attending a meeting of the UN General Assembly this week, has not commented on the allegations made by Okruashvili, or on the latest tension with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Security agents and police officials detained Okruashvili on Thursday at the offices of the new political party he unveiled earlier in the week. On Friday, prosecutors charged him with extortion, money laundering and abuse of power.

In downtown Tbilisi, some 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in front of parliament, blocking traffic on the capital's main avenue and chanting ``Irakli! Irakli!'' In an appeal that was read out by a member of his Movement for a United Georgia, Okruashvili called on his supporters to "unite and fight."

Police with truncheons and several water cannons stood by; skirmishes occasionally broke out with protesters and police pushing one another.

OVERTHROW

Opposition People's Party leader Koba Davitashvili, another former Saakashvili ally, told the crowd it was "time we overthrew this gang led by Saakashvili."

A senior official of the ruling United National Movement party, David Kirkitadze, warned that authorities would take steps to stop "any attempts to forcibly overthrow the legitimate government."

Protesters later vowed to hold round-the-clock demonstrations until the new elections were called.

Okruashvili had been an ally of Saakashvili since before the 2003 Rose Revolution mass protests that propelled Saakashvili to the presidency.

He once served as prosecutor general and was defense minister until November, when he was appointed minister of economic development.

He left a week later and went into private business.

Saakashvili has vowed to bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under government control and has pushed his nation to seek membership in NATO and the EU -- a policy that put him on a collision course with neighboring Russia.

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