Thursday, May 28, 2009

Have protests in Georgia hit a turning point?

For two months now thousands of protesters have occupied the center of Tbilisi, demanding the resignation of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. So far though Saakashvili has ignored their calls, stating just a few days ago that he had no plans to leave office before his term ends in 2013.

And now, the first cracks are appearing in what had until now been a largely united front among Georgia's opposition politicians. Overnight on Wednesday opposition leaders split between moderates wanting to continue rallies outside government buildings and those urging more 'direct action' - namely blocking the country's main east-west railroad. In the end, the activists won out, shutting down rail service to the capital for several hours on Wednesday, but only after opposition leaders had a public fight - on-stage at a rally in front of the parliament building.

Pro-Saakashvili forces are already trying to capitalize on the feud between the opposition's leaders. Tbilisi Mayor (and Saakashvili ally) Giorgi Ugulava said that the railroad shutdown showed that the opposition was now "hostage" to their more radical elements, which raises the idea that the so-far largely peaceful protests could turn violent.

And what about the target of these protests? While tens of thousands were gathering at Tbilisi's soccer stadium to demand his resignation, Saakashvili was reported to be in another soccer stadium - in Rome watching the UEFA Cup final between Barcelona and Manchester United. It's a move that shows Saakashvili is either a political genius (what better way to show you're not concerned over opposition protests then by leaving the country for a soccer game?) or that he, as some in the opposition claim, is in fact nuts. Georgian opposition leader Eka Beselia said Saakashvili's trip shows that "the country lacks a president simply because Saakashvili is only thinking about his personal wellbeing." Opposition leaders have long questioned Saakashvili's mental fitness, citing his ill-conceived decision to go to war with Russia last summer over South Ossetia as an indication of his mental instability.

Saakashvili though could find himself under pressure from a higher authority - Ilia II, Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church on Thursday called the situation in the country "explosive" and said the two sides should either begin immediate negotiations or that the country should hold snap elections. But in a move that angered the opposition, Patriarch Ilia II went on to ask what had Georgia gain by ousting two of its presidents since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, a statement seen by them as a quiet endorsement of Saakashvili.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: