Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ex-Georgia leader says Saakashvili should resign

Former Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze joined opposition calls on Monday for President Mikheil Saakashvili -- who ousted Shevardnadze in the ex-Soviet state's 2003 "Rose Revolution" -- to resign. The opposition plans rallies beginning on April 9 to demand Saakashvili go, accusing him of betraying promises to consolidate democracy in the Caucasus state and of walking into a disastrous war with neighboring Russia last year.

"If I was in his place, I would resign," 81-year-old Shevardnadze told reporters at his hillside residence in the capital, Tbilisi.
"If the protest on April 9 brings out 100,000 people or more, and they demand Saakashvili's resignation, then I believe the president should not oppose the people but should be firm and resign."
Saakashvili's second term expires in 2013.

Analysts predict tens of thousands will take to the streets on April 9, but some might stay away after police said last week they had uncovered a plot to ignite violence during the protests. The opposition denies any such plan.

It took thousands of demonstrators weeks of standing in the streets in November 2003 to force Shevardnadze's resignation following parliamentary elections widely condemned as rigged. For more than a decade, the former Soviet foreign minister presided over a government accused of rampant corruption. The climax came when Saakashvili charged into parliament clutching a rose and yelling "Resign!" at Shevardnadze.

Backed by the West, Saakashvili's government is credited with liberalizing the economy and attracting much-needed foreign investment to the country of 4.5 million people.
But opponents fault his record on democracy and media freedom. The criticism has deepened since a five-day war with Russia last August, when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia. Saakashvili called on Saturday for dialogue with the opposition, but warned he would not tolerate unrest. "Now is not the time for chaos and wrangling, but for unity," he said.

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