April 13, 2009 / 1:06 PM / 10 years ago

Georgia protesters intensify push to oust president

TBILISI (Reuters) - Thousands of Georgians took their campaign to oust Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili to his office on Monday, the fifth day of protests against his rule.

Demonstrators clap their hands during an opposition rally in Tbilisi, April 13, 2009. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Several thousand marched on the newly-built presidential residence that looks down on the Mtkvari River in Tbilisi, whistling and chanting “Misha, Go!.”

They pledged to stay there until Saakashvili, commonly known as Misha, resigns over his record on democracy and last year’s disastrous war with Russia.

Opposition leaders said they were shifting the focus of the campaign from the parliament to Saakashvili’s office.

“That way he will hear our voices much more loudly,” said Kakha Kukava, one of several opposition leaders taking part in the campaign.

Up to 20,000 people rallied outside the parliament.

Turnout had dipped over the weekend and there were signs that some opposition leaders were considering talks with the president.

Some 60,000 people rallied at the start of the campaign on Thursday, followed by 20,000 on Friday, blocking Tbilisi’s central avenue and the main roads running past the president’s office and the public broadcaster.

MISTAKES

Critics accuse Saakashvili of monopolising power and exerting pressure on the judiciary and media since coming to power on the back of the 2003 Rose Revolution promising to consolidate Georgian democracy.

Last year’s war, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia, has emboldened opponents who say the 41-year-old leader has made too many mistakes to remain in power until 2013.

But analysts question whether the opposition can remain united or muster the numbers over a sustained period to force him out. Despite the defection of some senior allies and repeated cabinet reshuffles since the war, Saakashvili’s position appears to remain strong.

The West, which receives oil via Georgia from the Caspian Sea, is watching the situation closely.

European Union special envoy Peter Semneby has been trying to broker a dialogue but opposition leaders have sent mixed signals about their readiness to talk.

Editing by Angus MacSwan

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