Georgia declares state of emergency

President Saakashvili seeks approval for restrictions in Tbilisi as protests rage.

    The protesters accuse Saakashvili of economic mismanagement and corruption [AFP]
    In a televised address to the nation, Saakashvili had earlier accused Russia's special services of fomenting civil unrest in his country.
     
    "Georgia is facing a very serious threat of unrest... High-ranking officials in Russian special services are behind this," he said.
     
    Saakashvili said he had evidence for his claim.
     
    "Georgia's foreign ministry today declared several Russian embassy employees persona non grata," he said, also announcing that they were accused of "espionage activity".
     
    Shortly after Saakashvili's statement, the main opposition television station Imedi, which had broadcast coverage of the protests, said it had been stormed by Georgian special forces, before going off the air.
     
    Protesters dispersed
     
    Earlier in the day, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who had massed outside the parliament.
     
    The demonstrators rallied and returned to the scene after police forcibly broke up their protest.
     
    The number of protesters increased rapidly to about 5,000 people and units of black-clad police were deployed after the conventional police force was overwhelmed.
     
    Police carrying truncheons and shields, were seen beating and punching protesters, the AFP news agency reported.
     
    The protests, in their sixth day, mark the biggest challenge to Saakashvili since his landslide election after the Rose Revolution four years ago.
     

    Saakashvili has accused Russia of
    meddling in Georgia's affairs [AFP]


    The protesters initially called for changes in the dates of planned elections and in the electoral system, but later made Saakashvili's resignation their central demand.
     
    Beatings reported
     
    Police did not use truncheons during Wednesday morning's sweep, according to Levan Gachechevadze, an opposition leader, but he said that they had kicked him.
     
    "They beat me, and Saakashvili will be beaten, too," he told the privately owned Imedi television after he returned to the protest.
     
    Amid the continuing unrest, Georgia recalled its ambassador to Russia.
     
    "Georgia's ambassador to Russia, Irakly Chubinishvili, has been recalled to Tbilisi for consultations," Nino Kajaia, a spokeswoman for Georgia's foreign ministry, said on Wednesday.
     
    "The events unfolding in Georgia clearly appear to be linked to Russia."
     
    'Strong nerves'
     
    The protesters had called for the resignation of Saakashvili, accusing him of economic mismanagement and corruption - accusations he rejects.
     
    Speaking of the earlier police operation, Tina Khidasheli, an opposition leader said: "They started operations at 8am [0400 GMT] ... They cleaned the street, as they would say".
     
    Gigi Ugulava, Tbilisi's mayor, defended the action by police, saying: "I was listening to one of the opposition leaders who was saying proudly they planned to pitch tents and set up a tent town in Tbilisi.
     
    "What we did is stop this because it is the will of the people not to have a tent town in Tbilisi."

    Police used tear gas and protesters to disperse the crowds [AFP]

    SOURCE: Agencies


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