Georgian opposition urges West to rebuke Saakashvili


THE LEADERS of Georgia’s opposition have called on western nations to condemn President Mikheil Saakashvili’s handling of a 10-week-long protest against his rule, after police clashed again with anti-government demonstrators intent on forcing him from power.

The fighting in central Tbilisi came as Russia used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to prevent the extension of an observer mission in Abkhazia, a separatist Georgian region which, like South Ossetia, has been recognised by Moscow as an independent state.

Violence erupted when dozens of masked police wielding truncheons confronted about 50 demonstrators who had gathered outside a police station to demand the release of activists who had been arrested at an earlier rally.

Witnesses said several protesters were badly beaten, while photographers for international media agencies had their equipment confiscated and pictures of the clashes erased.

One senior ally of opposition leader Irakli Alasania was reportedly taken to hospital with a broken nose and concussion.

“Our political team has repeatedly called on the government to solve the present crises in the country through dialogue, but with this violent action the government has itself refused the process of peaceful negotiation and has openly stepped on the path of civil confrontation,” Mr Alasania said.

Nino Burjanadze, who backed Mr Saakashvili in the 2003 Rose Revolution but is now one of his fiercest critics, demanded “a response from our western partners to give their assessment of the situation”.

“There was no adequate [western] reaction to illegal arrests of opposition protesters and this encouraged the authorities to take such actions,” he said.

Georgian officials later apologised to the photographers for the police actions, but blamed the protesters for provoking the violence.

Mr Saakashvili drew criticism from US and EU officials after using riot police to break up protests in late 2007, but he remains the west’s key ally in the Caucasus region, a key energy transit route that for centuries has been dominated by Russia.

Moscow resents Mr Saakashvili’s bid to break its influence in Georgia and lead the country into Nato. Russian forces quickly crushed his attempt last August to retake control of rebel South Ossetia; along with Abkhazia, the province is run by Kremlin-backed separatists.

Russia angered western states by using its UN veto to prevent UN monitors continuing patrols in Abkhazia, an unstable region where thousands of Moscow’s troops are stationed.