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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Saakashvili Calls for Early Election

ReutersSoldiers standing guard on a street in Tbilisi on Thursday. A ring of troops cordoned off the city center after Saakashvili declared a state of emergency.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called Thursday for an early presidential election in January and invited opposition leaders for talks, one day after imposing a state of emergency in the wake of a violent crackdown on protesters by police and security forces.

Saakashvili called for a Jan. 5 vote in response to opposition demands for early presidential and parliamentary elections. The proposal would have to be endorsed by the parliament.

"I am proposing that presidential elections be held Jan. 5," Saakashvili said on national television, Reuters reported. "You demanded early presidential elections, and now you will have them even earlier."

Both presidential and parliamentary elections are currently scheduled to take place in the fall of 2008.

Troops patrolled downtown Tbilisi on Thursday as the parliament prepared to consider whether to endorse the 15-day state of emergency Saakashvili announced after police and soldiers broke up the anti-government protests in the capital, firing water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds and beating demonstrators with truncheons.

The measure would ban all public rallies and suspend broadcasts by independent television and radio stations. The parliament has two days to consider the proposal.

"I don't wish to live in a country where there are restrictions on democracy, where states of emergency are announced because of the threat of a coup and destabilization; where restrictions are imposed on mass media outlets because they are calling for the ouster of the government," Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili again accused Moscow of being behind six days of protests, which culminated Wednesday with a massive rally in front of the parliament calling for the president to resign, and claimed that the Kremlin had set up an "alternative government" in Moscow in hopes of effecting regime change in Georgia.

In answer, he said he had recalled Georgia's ambassador to Russia and would expel three Russian diplomats from the country.

Russia's Foreign Ministry fired back Thursday by expelling three Georgian diplomats and calling on the international community to convince Georgian authorities to stop using force against the opposition and to observe human rights.

The ministry summoned a Georgian Embassy official to protest the expulsion of the Russian diplomats and demanded that "three senior diplomats" at the Georgian Embassy leave the country, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.

"We are convinced the world community, major human rights bodies ... the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the OSCE should urge officials in Tbilisi to cease the violence, respect human rights fully and resolve internal political issues constitutionally, without the use of force," Kamynin said.

George Abdaladze / AP
Koba Davitashvili, leader of the opposition People's Party, resting in his Tbilisi home on Thursday with his wife, Inga.

In addition to dispersing the protesters, hundreds of whom sought medical aid at hospitals, security forces also raided Georgia's leading opposition television channel, Imedi, putting an end to its broadcasts. Nearly 100 people of those injured remained hospitalized Thursday, the Georgian Health Ministry said, The Associated Press reported.

Among those injured was the leader of the opposition People's Party, Koba Davitashvili. He vanished early Wednesday, only to surface later in the day in a hospital in the town of Gori in serious condition.

A Kremlin official described the accusations Wednesday night as "hysterical," and Kamynin reiterated on Thursday that Moscow had played no role in the protests.

"The attempts to portray Russia as an enemy are evidence of the Georgian leadership's inability to solve internal political problems," he said.

In separate comments, Kamynin told NTV television that Moscow had called on the Georgian authorities to find and prosecute those individuals who assaulted two Russian reporters during Wednesday's melee. Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that both were employees of Russia Today television and that one had been hit by a rubber bullet.

Russia's ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, said Thursday that he was "worried by the fact that the anti-Russian rhetoric is becoming a priority in Georgia's foreign policy," Interfax reported. Kovalenko said Saakashvili's decision to expel the Russian diplomats was an "unprecedented provocation."

The Georgian Foreign Ministry identified the three declared personae non grata as Councilor Volynkim, Councilor Solomatin and Third Secretary Kurenkov. Their first names were not given.

Federal legislators were much more outspoken and radical in their assessment of the actions by Saakashvili, who has been portrayed in the West as a rare democratic leader in the states of the former Soviet Union since he came to power in the Rose Revolution in 2003.

Lyubov Sliska, first deputy speaker of the State Duma and a senior member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, called Saakashvili's decision to disperse the protesters by force and shut down opposition television channels a demonstration of the "failure of the broad, so-called democracy offensive on former states of the Soviet Union."

She said Saakashvili's actions had fully discredited him and his Western "patrons," Interfax reported.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov went further.

"I think it is all being done on the instructions of U.S. secret services," Gryzlov said, Interfax reported.

Sliska, while suggesting that Saakashvili should step down, voiced concern that he might use the state of emergency to try to reassert control over the breakaway pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Another deputy speaker and United Russia member, Oleg Morozov, said the clashes and decision to introduce a state of emergency represented "the death throes of the authorities."

Vadim Gustov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on CIS Affairs said Saakashvili would have to sit down for talks with the opposition if he hoped to remain in office.

"If this does not happen and Saakashvili picks the path of a rigid dictatorship, then it would lead Georgia into chaos and civil war," Gustov said Thursday, Interfax reported.

NATO, membership in which Saakashvili's administration has made a major policy goal, also criticized the decision to declare the state of emergency and limit media freedoms.

"NATO is following closely and with concern events in Georgia," Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement. "The imposition of emergency rule, and the closure of media outlets in Georgia, a partner with which the alliance has an intensified dialogue, are of particular concern and not in line with Euro-Atlantic values," he said.