Saturday, October 4, 2008

Georgia's Saakashvili: freedom fighter or rights abuser?

That's the question that Georgia's political opposition is starting to ask about President Mikheil Saakashvili, accusing him of stepping on human rights and democracy in the wake of the conflict with Russia in August.

While they admit that Georgia is freer now than it was when it was part of the Soviet Union, they say that Saakashvili is far from the democrat that politicians in the West (particularly the US) want to make him out to be. In fact they blame the war in August on Saakashvili's authoritarian tendencies - his government lacked any dissenting voices to tell him what a colossally bad idea it was to pick a fight with Russia. Human Rights Watch is also warning that Saakashvili is taking a sharp turn away from democracy in a recent report citing, among other thing, the "quick resort to use of force by law enforcement agents" against the political opposition. The most visible example of this was last November when Saakashvili ordered riot police to break up a large, but peaceful, demonstration against his government in the capital, Tbilisi.

The opposition though makes it clear that while they are upset with Saakashvili, they are not about to turn to Moscow for support, exactly what Saakashvili's government is accusing the opposition of wanting to do. Instead, they want Saakashvili to live up to the democratic principles he championed during Georgia's peaceful Rose Revolution that brought him to power.
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