Georgia leader resigns before poll

Opposition activists take to the streets as Saakashvili begins re-election campaign.

    Emergency rule was imposed after police clashed with opposition protesters on November 7 [EPA]
    "I'm sure that January 5 will go down in Georgia's history as the beginning of a big move forward," he said in televised statement late on Saturday.

    Opposition protest

    About 10,000 opposition supporters gathered near Tbilisi city centre on Sunday to protest against Saakashvili's rule and to demand that pro-opposition television channel Imedi be allowed back on air.

    "The goal
    of the demonstration is to
    protest the continuation, despite the president's assurances, of political terror"

    Levan Berdzenishvili, opposition leader

    Demonstrations and independent television news broadcasts were banned during a state of emergency rule imposed after the clashes on November 7.

    It was lifted on November 16. "Free press!" and "Remember November 7!" read placards in the crowd.

    The channel, which is part-owned by News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch, has been suspended indefinitely.

    The opposition is concerned that it will struggle to get its message across in the run-up to the election without it.

    The United States and Nato have called on Saakashvili to allow the station to go back on air. News Corp. executives have said that police smashed equipment when they stormed the station.

    'Political terror'

    "The goal of the demonstration is to protest the continuation, despite the president's assurances, of political terror," Levan Berdzenishvili, opposition leader, said.

    "In addition, we are speaking out in defence of the free press, given that to this day Imedi has not been restored."

    Levan Gachechiladze, the main opposition presidential candidate, has said he would scrap the post of president and change the constitution to make Georgia a parliamentary republic if he wins in January.

    However, Saakashvili is hoping to renew his mandate and his reputation as one of the former Soviet Union's leading reformers.
     
    "It will be a very important 40 days. We will win these elections and January 5 will be the day of a great victory," Saakashvili said after his National Movement party nominated him to run for re-election.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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