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Georgian opposition demonstrates against President Mikheil Saakashvili   
Mikheil Saakashvili
Mikheil Saakashvili
The Georgian opposition said 100,000 people would attend its demonstration against President Mikheil Saakashvili on November 2.

They say it will be the largest demonstration in Georgia's modern history, comparable to the 2003 "rose revolution." Will it grow into another uprising that will overthrow the head of state?

Just two months ago that would have been impossible. The opposition was divided and lacked the strength to oppose the president. Some were even saying that the outcomes of the next parliamentary and presidential elections were predetermined, even though the dates (sometime next autumn or winter) have not yet been set.

The tide turned when the president's former ally, ex-Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili, accused Saakashvili of a veritable catalogue of sins. But although Okruashvili withdrew the accusations after his arrest and subsequent mysterious release on bail - it is not clear who provided the $6 million - the wave he released keeps rolling.

The opposition decided to act while it was still possible, and signed the unification manifesto on October 17.

Its strategic goal is to overthrow Saakashvili, and the tactical goal is to hold early parliamentary elections next spring. The opposition has agreed on a slogan after choosing between "Georgia without Saakashvili" and "Georgia without the president."

The latter slogan provoked heated debates. Does a country need a presidency if none of its presidents have worked normally and until the end of their terms?

If Georgia is to become a parliamentary republic, it needs early elections. The opposition is preparing to win the majority and use its right to amend the Constitution in order to get rid of Saakashvili.

A dress rehearsal for the "march of dissent," attended by 5,000 to 10,000 people, was held in Zugdidi, a stronghold of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

The authorities prepared in their own way - they sent groups of young people to Zugdidi, who shouted during the demonstration that its participants had "sold out to the Kremlin." As expected, the demonstration deteriorated into violence, and several opposition deputies were beaten up.

The opposition was accused of "selling out to the Kremlin" some time ago, when its leaders said that they would improve relations with Russia.

But they have also launched a rather successful diplomatic offensive in the West, proclaiming the goals of improving relations with the European Union and joining NATO. At the same time, the U.S. administration hinted at its dissatisfaction with the Saakashvili regime.

Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said the opposition was entitled to openly express its protest, especially since the level of its democratic development is not as high as it should be.

American newspapers warn that the White House is ready to surrender Saakashvili and come to terms with the opposition. It was not a coincidence that Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, recently arrived in Georgia and met with the opposition today.

The Georgian opposition also invited European diplomats to the French Embassy to inform them about the situation in the country. In an effort to raise the profile of the upcoming event, they sent several delegates to Western Europe to organize simultaneous protest actions in Berlin, Strasbourg and Athens on Friday.

Georgian tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who lives in London, has offered to finance the opposition and said he would turn over his opposition television company Imedi to Australian born media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

"I want to protect the company from pressure," he said. "Journalists and the company will have better protection with American shareholders. Murdoch will ensure freedom of speech."

Moscow will most likely keep away, despite Saakashvili's outrageous speeches against the Russian authorities and their peacekeepers. Several days ago, after a skirmish between Russian peacekeepers and Georgian police in Ganmukhuri, he pronounced Sergei Chaban, commander of the Russian peacekeeping force, persona non grata in Georgia.

But the Kremlin's antipathy towards Saakashvili does not translate into undivided support for the opposition. Saakashvili's opponents have recently been just as anti-Russian as the president, and they share foreign policy goals, such as joining NATO and a general orientation towards the West, which are hardly in Russia's interests.

And lastly, it would be strange if Russia supported those who accept money from Patarkatsishvili, the best friend of the Kremlin's arch-enemy, Boris Berezovsky.

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