20,000 Rally for Saakashvili's Ouster

TBILISI, Georgia -- Thousands of opposition supporters protested for a fourth straight day Monday in Georgia's capital, briefly encircling the parliament and President Mikheil Saakashvili's office and chanting for him to step down.

Saakashvili, meanwhile, has suggested that Russia is fomenting the unrest, a claim that angered his opponents.

Some 20,000 people gathered in front of the parliament building as the standoff persisted, with Saakashvili facing the stiffest challenge since his election following the Rose Revolution four years ago.

Opponents of Saakashvili -- many of them former allies -- have led daily rallies on the capital's main thoroughfare since Friday, when more than 100,000 gathered. Protesters initially demanded that the president annul a decision to move next year's parliamentary elections back by several months and reform the election system, but now they are also calling for his resignation.

In a show of strength, protesters formed a human ring around the parliament, the president's headquarters a few hundred meters away and a handful of other buildings, shouting, "Misha, go away!"

"If we supported the use of force, we could have long ago taken the parliament building by force, but we did not and do not plan to do that," said Georgy Khaindrava, a former minister in Saakashvili's Cabinet who is now an opposition leader. "We will use only peaceful methods."

Police and security forces stood by but did not confront the protesters. Presidential administration officials said Saakashvili was working in his office as usual. In addition to crowds outside the parliament and the president's office, opposition supporters formed corridors at the entrances to the Interior Ministry, in charge of law enforcement, and other government buildings, handing employees heading in and out invitations to join the protest. Several opposition leaders announced that they were starting hunger strikes and would continue until their demands were met.

But Saakashvili rejected the demands Sunday, saying the parliamentary elections would be held as planned and that -- far from stepping down -- he would run for a second term in a presidential vote, expected in late 2008.