Georgian opposition rallies to challenge president

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TBILISI, Oct 24 (Reuters) Georgian opposition leaders vowed today to continue a wave of anti-government protests across the Caucasus nation to challenge President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Several hundred people gathered in the centre of the western town of Samtredia to listen to opposition leaders, a day after as many as 5,000 turned out in the regional centre of Adjara autonomous republic.

''We'll continue our protests and will force this government to listen to people,'' Goga Khaindrava, one of the opposition leaders, told a cheering crowd in Samtredia.

Activists shouted: ''we are not afraid!'' and waved flags.

The opposition plans to gather thousands of people in a major protest next week in the capital Tbilisi.

''This government will see on November 2 how big our power is and how big is the people's discontent,'' Koba Davitashvili, the leader of the opposition People's Party, told Reuters.

Saakashvili is facing the biggest challenge since being swept to power in the 2003 ''Rose Revolution'' protests, after a former ally-turned-foe pushed the opposition to unite.

The arrest of former Defence Minister Irakly Okruashvili, who had accused the president of corruption and plotting to kill a businessman, sparked Georgia's biggest rally since 2003.

Saakashvili dismissed the claims as lies and Okruashvili was later released on 6 million dollars bail after admitting in a televised confession that he had invented the claims to damage Saakashvili.

His lawyer and opposition politicians have said that the televised confession in police custody may have been made under duress.

Okruashvili, who stands accused of extortion and abuse of office, was one of Saakashvili's inner circle until his sacking last year. Members of his party said soon after his release that Okruashvili had decided to leave politics.

Reuters AK VP0117

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