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Georgian opposition leader and former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze called Sunday on supporters to remain in front of the state television building overnight for a third day of anti-government protests on Monday.
Burjanadze promised the activists of the National Assembly opposition group, who want President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign, that supporters of the Georgian Party and Free Georgia would join the protest on Monday.
An estimated 5,000 people came to the first day of protests on Saturday, but on Sunday only 1,000-2,000 turned out.
In a second phone interview with the Tbilisi-based Maestro TV on May 22, ex-defense minister and leader of the Georgian Party called on the Georgian army “to stand beside the people” on May 25, when his party plans to, as he put it, “hit a final blow to the Saakashvili’s regime.”
In an earlier interview with Maestro TV also on Sunday, Okruashvili, who lives in exile in France, said that he would return back to Georgia on May 25 “to put an end to the Saakashvili’s regime.”
“From the moment, when I step on the Georgian territory, I will lose political asylum to which I was granted by the French authorities; hence I will lose the right to go back to France. I am deliberately doing it in order to cut my way back. I want it to be a message to those people who are neutral towards the developments and watching these developments on TV. I want to call on these people to come, for at least amusement, on May 25, when we will hit a final blow to this regime,” Okruashvili told Maestro TV via phone late on Sunday evening.
“Several days ago I called on the soldiers, officers, privates [of the Georgian army] that in few days – this is May 25 – we will be standing on the one side of the barricade and there will be Saakashvili’s gang on the other side,” he continued. “They [the army] should make a choice where they will be standing; they can’t be neutral in that situation and I want to request them to make a choice in favor of the Georgian people their choice will decide the fate of Georgia.”
“On May 25 I will be in Georgia together with my people. I will not talk about details. On May 25 we will manage to put an end to Saakashvili’s regime with minimal losses. If there is a great public support, the losses will be minimal. So, everybody should acknowledge the responsibility, which should be assumed before our country.”
“I am taking an extremely risky step to save our country. I have no ambitions for leadership; I have no ambitions, that we are leading these processes. I call on all people not to be indifferent. Go away from your TV sets and let’s end this regime once and forever,” Okruashvili said.
The Georgian Party announced on Sunday that it would launch a decisive struggle against President Saakashvili on May 25 at a rally on Avlabari Square – the presidential palace is located close to that square.
Since 2007, when he went into opposition, Okruashvili lives in France, where he has received political asylum; in Georgia he was sentenced to 11-year prison term in absentia in March, 2008.
Sozar Subari, the leader of opposition Georgian Party, said that his party would start “decisive struggle for the regime change” in Georgia from May 25, which, he said, should become “the Day of Rage of the Georgian people.”
He said that although previous attempts to join efforts with the People’s Assembly, which is currently holding rally outside the public broadcaster, failed, it was no longer important what was in the past, “the important is what will be in the future”.
“Yesterday and today the authorities went beyond any limits and launched terror against the people… involving breaking up of peaceful rallies, illegal arrests… For that reasons the Georgian Party is launching a decisive struggle for the regime change. We call on the entire Georgia, we call on all the political forces, who cares about the country’s fate, to gather in Tbilisi, on Avlabari Square at noon on May 25 to launch the decisive struggle to save the country,” Subari said.
“We should turn May 25 into the Day of Rage of the Georgian people – the day, when the Georgian people will put an end to the Saakashvili’s criminal regime… May 25 should turn into a real independence day for the Georgian people,” Subari said.
The Georgian government plans to mark Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26 with a military parade on the Rustaveli Avenue.
After the Rose Revolution, Okruashvili was appointed the Person Authorized (governor) of the President of Georgia in Shida Kartli (to which breakaway South Ossetia was a de jure part) in November 2003 and established strong anti-corruption and anti-smuggling measures in the region.
He served as the Prosecutor General from January 2004 until Saakashvili appointed him Interior Minister in June 2004 and moved him to the post of Defence Minister in December 2004. During his tenure as defence minister, Okruashvili was known for advocating military actions against the separatists in South Ossetia.
On September 25, 2007, he announced the formation of the new opposition Movement for United Georgia and unleashed criticism on President Saakashvili, accusing him of corruption, incompetency and human rights violations. He also raised new concerns around Zurab Zhvania's death, challenging the official investigation point of view and personally accused the Georgian president in planning the murder of businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili.
On September 27, 2007, Okruashvili was detained on charges of extortion, money laundering, and abuse of office while Georgia's defense minister.
On October 8, 2007, in a video taped confession released by the General Prosecutor's Office, Okruashvili pleaded guilty to large-scale bribery through extortion and negligence while serving as minister and retracted his accusations against the president, winning release on bail of 10 million Georgian lari. He also said that his earlier accusations levelled against Saakashvili were not true and were aimed at gaining political dividends for himself and Badri Patarkatsishvili and at discrediting the President of Georgia. Some opposition leaders said Okruashvili's statement had been made under duress. Okruashvili declared, however, that he had decided to cooperate with the investigation in order to "mitigate [his] situation".
Georgian special task police forces dispersed protesters, who gathered near the Parliament building in downtown Tbilisi, using water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.
Two supporters of President Mikheil Saakashvili were attacked with sticks by opposition protesters in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Wednesday.
The two people were set upon after they began chanting "Misha [Mikheil Saakashvili] is cool."
A policeman was killed and 19 more were injured after Georgian special task police forces clashed with protesters, who gathered near the Parliament building in downtown Tbilisi, a Georgian Interior Ministry's official said on Thursday.
Relations with Russia are key to Georgia's stability and cohesion, opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze told RIA Novosti in a video interview on Tuesday.
Activists took to the streets in Georgia for a fourth day of protests on Tuesday as calls for President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign continue.
A Georgian radical opposition group, the Georgian Party, on Tuesday canceled plans to hold a Day of Wrath rally.
The Georgian Party intended to go ahead with the protest on Wednesday, but changed its plans after failing to persuade Nino Burdzhanadze, parliamentary speaker and leader of the opposition People's Assembly, to move her rival party's rally to another day.
Russia accused Georgia on Monday of violating the right to public assembly by using force against protesters demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili.