Georgia leader declares emergency

President bans private news broadcasts and blames Russia for upheaval and protests.

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

    Georgia's president has declared a state of emergency over the entire country for 15 days in the wake of opposition protests against his rule.
    Mikhail Saakashvili also banned all news broadcasts except state-run television on Wednesday and expelled three Russian diplomats, accusing Moscow of fomenting unrest.
    The declaration comes after the prime minister said there had been an attempted coup.
    Russia blamed
    Protestors have been calling for the president's resignation since mass demonstrations began last week.
    Saakashvili expelled three Russian diplomats,
    accusing Moscow of fomenting unrest [AFP]
    It is the government's worst crisis since the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that swept Saakashvili to power.
    In a televised address to the nation, Saakashvili 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, whose pro-Western leadership had prompted the US to hail Georgia as a "beacon of democracy", said he had evidence for his claim against Russia, but did not elaborate.
    "Georgia's foreign ministry today declared several Russian embassy employees persona non grata," he said, adding that they were accused of "espionage activity".
    Georgia also recalled its ambassador to Russia "for consultations", its foreign ministry said.
    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, then went off the air.
    In the clashes on Wednesday, tear gas enveloped parliament after riot police advanced towards the crowd, pushing people back with shields and beating some with truncheons.
    The protesters accuse Saakashvili of economic
    mismanagement and corruption [AFP]
    Scattered fist fights broke out between police and protesters.
    Demonstrators retreated down Tbilisi's main avenue but several thousand opposition supporters rallied later in another section of Tbilisi, only to have the protest broken up again by riot police using water cannon and firing rubber bullets.
    Protesters pelted police with rocks from a bridge.
    Levan Gachechevadze, an opposition leader, said police did not use truncheons during the initial sweep but 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.
    The number of protesters increased rapidly to about 5,000 people and units of black-clad riot police were deployed after the conventional police force was overwhelmed.
    fist fights broke out between
    police and protesters [AFP]
    The protests, in their sixth day, mark the biggest challenge to Saakashvili since his landslide election four years ago.
    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.
    They accused Saakashvili of economic mismanagement and corruption - accusations he rejects.
    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."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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