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CIS: Georgian opposition protests against president

07 Nov 2008 11:43 PM

TBILISI, Georgia, Nov 7 AP - Thousands of opposition supporters demonstrated today in the first major protest against President Mikhail Saakashvilisince Georgia's August war with Russia.

The United Opposition coalition held its rally exactly a year after riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse peaceful demonstrators who called for Saakashvili's ouster.

But at least two significant opposition parties - The Republican Party and the Christian Democrats - stayed away from today's protest, citing the needfor postwar unity against Russia.

Opposition leaders said they expected 50,000 people at the rally outside parliament on the capital's main avenue, but at its start, the crowd was no larger than 10,000.

Anger over Georgia's losses in the war has added to the dissatisfaction among Saakashvili's opponents. The opposition has demanded an explanation fromthe government for the mistakes of the war, which broke out when Saakashvili launched a military offensive to reclaim separatist South Ossetia.

Russian forces swiftly intervened, routing the Georgian military and driving deep into the former Soviet republic, where they remained for weeks.

Russia has recognised separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations and pledged to station thousands of troops there, badly underminingGeorgia's chances of regaining control.

The opposition has also demanded greater press freedoms and early parliamentary elections.

"Today we begin a new and open protest against Saakashvili and his clique,"United Opposition co-leader Levan Gachechiladze said in televised remarks.

The 2007 protests - during which Saakashvili declared a state of emergency and cracked down on independent media - caused great concern among his Western backers and damaged his image as a democratic reformer.

AP ht=0A