New protests called in Georgia against TV ban

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TBILISI, Nov 20 (Reuters) Georgian opposition leaders called for a mass demonstration on November 25 to protest against a ban on Imedi, the main television station critical of the government.

Police raided Imedi after forcing protesters off the streets with tear gas and rubber bullets nearly two weeks ago. A judge had stripped the broadcaster of its licence for inciting violence.

The opposition move to keep up the pressure on President Mikhail Saakashvili came hours after he left key economic posts untouched in a cabinet reshuffle ahead of a January 5 election he called to pacify the protesters who demand his resignation.

The opposition said there can be no free and fair election unless Imedi is allowed to broadcast again.

''The main issue is protection of freedom of speech in Georgia and getting back on air Imedi TV,'' Koba Davitashvili, one of the leaders of the People's Party, told a news briefing.

''Let's show everybody that our fight is not over, our fight against Saakashvili's tyranny is going on.'' The opposition accuse Saakashvili of corruption and economic mismanagement, allegations he denies. Earlier this month around 70,000 people thronged the centre of Tbilisi in an opposition rally that triggered six days of protests and end in violence.

On Friday, Saakashvili appointed a new prime minister and lifted a state of emergency he had imposed, to wide criticism in the West, on the volatile southern Caucasus nation.

The American-educated president has said he is certain his mandate will be approved in the January vote and has instructed his new government to spend more time resolving social problems.

Saakashvili nominated 36-year-old Lado Gurgenidze, head of Georgia's largest private credit institution, as prime minister.

''We didn't change ministers from the economic bloc because we want to retain continuity of economic policy,'' Gurgenidze told journalists yesterday.

He said the government planned to change social policy.

The government's parliamentary secretary Georgi Khuroshvili said Saakashvili had proposed two changes to his cabinet: Bela Tsipuriya as education and science minister and Koba Subeliani as refugees minister.

Saakashvili said former education minister Kakha Lomaia would become secretary of the National Security Council, an organisation headed by the president.

Under the Georgian constitution, the head of the government forms a cabinet of ministers in consultation with the president, after which the candidates, including the prime minister-designate, are confirmed by parliament.

Parliament, loyal to the president, is widely expected to approve his nominees this week.

Reuters ARB DB0921

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