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Confrontation Deepens as Saakashvili Rejects Early Polls

President Saakashvili made it clear he did not plan to compromise on major demands pushed forth by the ten-party opposition coalition. Opposition responded by saying that Saakashvili was “totally inappropriate” and his long-awaited statement was “utter nonsense.”

Saakashvili was speaking in a televised interview broadcasted late on November 4 by all the major Georgian television stations, which was conducted by Davit Aprasidze, an anchor of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) earlier on the same day. This was Saakashvili’s first comment made since the launch of large-scale protest rallies on November 2.

During the 50-minute interview, the President spoke much about the achievements which as he said was made possible as a result of “enormous efforts undertaken” by his government and the Georgian people and also addressed some of the opposition’s demands, but not all of them.

In his speech Saakashvili made an attempt to draw a line between the opposition parties and their leaders, whom he described as “black dark forces” orchestrated by “oligarch Russian forces,” and people who turned out at the protest rally outside the Parliament. He said that he acknowledged those social problems which many people were facing by saying: “Everyone should know that I constantly think about these problems.”

While speaking about the opposition’s one of the major demands to hold elections in spring, 2008 instead of late next year, Saakashvili reiterated the position voiced for many times by the ruling party leaders and linked the necessity of holding polls in late 2008 with Russia’s factor.

“We have decided to hold elections in late 2008 after Russia imposed embargo on Georgia. There was a threat of direct confrontation between Russia and Georgia after this embargo was imposed in late 2006,” he said.

“It is too risky for Georgia to have elections in spring, at the time when presidential elections are also held in Russia [March, 2008]. In January or February [2008] the fate of Kosovo will be decided and it is most likely that it will be internationally recognized. Russia made it clear it planned to recognize Abkhazia and S.Ossetia in case of Kosovo’s recognition, which in turn means a risk of having confrontation. That is why we have decided to shorten president’s term in office for at least eight months and to prolong the parliament term in office.”

He admitted that the authorities have failed to properly explain this reason of postponement of elections to the society when the decision was made in late last December. But he also pointed out that he did not want to speak much about this issue because of foreign policy reasons.

“We did not want to give additional reason to Russia to start accusing us that we were planning something in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But now I am saying this,” he said.

Saakashvili also said explicitly: “Both the parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in the autumn of 2008 as defined by the constitution and nobody can blackmail us.”

The President also made remarks which were obviously referred to Badri Patarkatsishvili, a business tycoon, who pledged funding to the opposition’s current campaign.

“Political technologies of some political parties are very clear: factory of lies,” Saakashvili said. “The same persons, who were resorting to this factory of lies in mid 90s against [ex-Russian president Boris] Yeltsin, are doing the same now in Georgia. They arrived here and set up this factory of lies.”

Patarkatsishvili, who amassed wealth in Russia in mid-90s, arrived in Georgia in 2001 after Russia put him on the wanted list for alleged fraud.

“Oligarch Russian forces are lobbying for staging turmoil in Georgia,” Saakashvili added.

He also said that protest rally was “a normal process” and “part of democracy.” Saakashvili said that there were certain fears among part of the society about possible tensions, “because Georgia has a history of civil war and turmoil and people still remembers this.”

“But I want to make it clear: people should not have déjà vu with the past when protest rallies were leading to turmoil,” Saakashvili said.

He, however, also pointed out that the ongoing demonstrations in Tbilisi aimed at destabilization. “Goal of protests rallies is very clear: to create virtual reality that Georgia is weakening,” Saakashvili said.

“This is untalented attempt to imitate the Rose Revolution,” he said. A similar statement was made by Tbilisi mayor, Gigi Ugulava, on November 2 when tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside the Parliament.

While addressing the opposition’s demand to replace the current election administration and to change the rule of electing majoritarian lawmakers, Saakashvili said that a dialogue within the parliament should continue on “further improvement” of the election code.

Although he did not directly spoke about the opposition parties’ most recent demand calling for Saakashvili’s resignation, the President made remarks which were an apparent response to this: “I plan to take my next presidential oath in the Gelati Cathedral [in the western Georgia].”

The opposition also demands release of what it calls “political prisoners” mainly referring to Irakli Batiashvili. Saakashvili, however, said nothing about the issue.
Opposition’s Reaction

Levan Berdzenishvili, a lawmaker from the Republican party, said the President’s statement was “totally inappropriate, not serious and utter nonsense.”

“President Saakashvili has insulted the Georgian people today,” Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party said. “Saakashvili has challenged the people and the people have accepted this challenge by turning out at the protest rally.”

“I had an impression that Saakashvili lives in an absolutely different country,” Giorgi Khaindrava of the opposition group Equality Institute said.

“President Saakashvili insulted people by calling them black dark forces,” Giorgi Tsagareishvili of the Movement for United Georgia said.

“He has lost a chance and tomorrow he will see it when entire Georgia will start protests,” Salome Zourabichvili, the ex-foreign minister and leader of Georgia’s Way party, said.

“This was a speech in a style of Leonid Brezhnev [the Soviet leader in 60s and 70s],” Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, the leader of Freedom Party said.

Some analysts have suggested that the President’s statement amid ongoing protest rallies failed to meet the society’s expectations.

“The society, I think, expected more conciliatory messages from the President and not the statements similar to those we have been hearing from the ruling party officials very often,” Archil Gegeshidze, a senior fellow at the Tbilisi-based think-tank Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS).

An independent analyst, Ramaz Sakvarelidze, said the President’s speech was in the line of the tactic adhered by the authorities, which are expecting that the protest rallies will recede.

“This is a marathon in endurance,” he said. “The authorities’ tactic is that they believe the wave of protests will slow down as time goes by, so the President’s address was part of this tactic.”


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