Pro-Western Saakashvili, who advocates Georgia's membership in Nato and the EU, is facing the worst political crisis since he took power in 2003 after a bloodless revolution.

   

Facing a barrage of complaints that he was cracking down on democratic freedoms, Saakashvili last week set a snap presidential election for January 5 in a move aimed at defusing the tension with the opposition.

   

Saakashvili has previously accused Russia of attempting to overthrow his government by staging the recent opposition protests, and said the crackdown was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos.

 

He defended the emergency rule this week by saying that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had threatened to divide the nation permanently along ethnic lines.