Georgian opposition renews anti-president protests

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TBILISI, Nov 3 (Reuters) Five thousand Georgians gathered in front of the ex-Soviet country's parliament building today to demand early elections in a second day of protests against President Mikhail Saakashvili.

The turnout was much lower than the estimated 70,000 opposition supporters who protested in the capital Tbilisi yesterday in the biggest show of unrest since the peaceful revolution that swept Saakashvili to power four years ago.

But protesters, some waving banners and wearing white bandanas bearing the slogan ''I'm not scared'', vowed to stay on the streets until the Western-allied government meets their demands for early elections and changes to polling rules.

''We aren't going to step back. We will stay here to the finish,'' said George Tsagareishvili, one of the leaders of the opposition United Georgia party.

The street protests have drawn comparisons with the Rose Revolution, the wave of mainly peaceful protests that led to Saakashvili replacing Eduard Shevardnadze as president.

Saakashvili's opponents accuse him of authoritarian rule and human rights abuses, although not on the same scale as in some other ex-Soviet states. They also say living standards are not rising as fast as many Georgians had hoped after the revolution.

''They have deprived us of everything. They are mocking us,'' said 41-year-old protester Lia Kavtaradze, as the crowd chanted ''Go! Go!'' Opposition supporters want parliamentary elections brought forward to early 2008 from late next year, so as to win the vote and use their majority to abolish the presidency.

Billionaire businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili has backed the movement, although Interfax news agency reported he left today for Israel after addressing the crowd the previous day.

Addressing the rally today, Republican Party leader David Berdzenishvili said: ''We have to tell the president our slogan: Georgia without a president. If Saakashvili doesn't make the right decision, he will go the same way as his predecessor Shevardnadze''.

Saakashvili, who is currently in Tbilisi, has not made any comment on the protests. The president, a key US ally who wants to take Georgia into NATO and the European Union, frequently flaunts his democratic credentials.

Opposition supporters are not opposed to Saakashvili's pro-Western stance, a position which has earned support from the United States and the European Union in Georgia's bitter quarrels with neighbouring Russia.


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