Sunday, May 10, 2009

Georgia leader to face opponents

Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili is to hold talks with opposition leaders after weeks of protests calling for his resignation.

The meeting will be the first direct talks between Mr Saakashvili and his political opponents since the protest campaign began on 9 April.

Critics accuse him of bungling the conflict with Russia last August and restricting democratic rights.

A mutiny at a military base last Tuesday raised fears of further unrest.

Correspondents say opposition parties are divided over what they hope to achieve, some pushing for reform and others saying only Mr Saakashvili's resignation will satisfy their demands.
President 'ready'

A statement by the presidency said Mr Saakashvili was ready to meet with "any political forces" to resolve the stalemate.

The coalition of opposition parties has led a campaign of mostly peaceful protests in Tbilisi, although a violent clash between police and protesters a week ago left dozens injured.

Mr Saakashvili, who insists he will not step down before the end of his term in 2013, is due to meet four members of the coalition - Irakli Alasania, Levan Gachechiladze, Salome Zurabishvili and Kakha Shartava.

Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, a former ally of the president and now among his fiercest opponents, declined to attend the talks.

"I am not expecting any results from this meeting," she told Georgian television, adding that the president should resign.

But Ms Zurabishvili hailed the forthcoming talks as a success for the opposition.

"In the end he (Mr Saakashvili) saw reality... and realised that silence and ignorance is no longer possible," she told a rally outside parliament.

"This is a sign for us that we have been on the right track during the last 30 days."

More than 10,000 people attended a protest outside parliament on Saturday, again calling for Mr Saakashvili's resignation.