Tens Of Thousands Turn Out For Opposition Rally In Tbilisi
September 29, 2012
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have rallied in Georgia's capital in a show of strength two days before parliamentary elections.
Addressing crowds in Tbilisi’s central Freedom Square on September 29, opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili said the current government had only hours left in power before it was voted out in the October 1 vote.
"This regime cannot be called a ruling force and the people have already delivered a verdict," he said. "We will just make it formal on October 1 and let it come into force."
Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition is up against President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, which now holds nearly 80 percent of the seats in parliament.
Most observers see the race too close to call.
Ivanishvili told his supporters that the current government has "led the country to a dead-end."
He promised a return to law and order should his party win, saying "Saakashvili's system based on lawlessness and torture should be destroyed."
Ivanishvili, a billionaire businessman who made his fortune in Russia, also countered Saakashvili's contention that he will take Georgia back under Russian domination.
"The U.S. and NATO members are our strategic allies," Ivanishvili said. "Our country will become a worthy member of the European community."
German news agency dpa and Russian news agency ITAR-TASS estimated the crowd for the pro-Ivanishvili rally was up to 200,000 people.
The ruling United National Movement staged its own mass demonstration in Tbilisi on September 28.
Addressing his supporters in several towns in western Georgia on September 29, Saakashvili said the country would conduct "exemplary elections."
Saakashvili, whose second and last term ends next year, rose to power in 2004 after a bloodless revolution that toppled Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister.
Opponents have since accused Saakashvili of monopolizing power and criticized him for leading Georgia into a disastrous five-day war with Russia in 2008.
The October 1 elections usher in a new political system that will give greater powers to the parliament and prime minister.
The run-up to the vote has been marred by mass protests last week against police brutality in prisons.
Some senior officials, including the interior minister, have resigned and a number of prison officials have been detained after images of prison guards beating and raping inmates were made public.
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and ITAR-TASS
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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