Georgia in Turmoil Saakashvili Talks with Opposition End in 'No Result'
Following a weekend that saw thousands of protesters gather on the streets of Tbilisi, embattled Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili agreed to meet with opposition leaders on Monday, who are calling for his immediate resignation. Yet the meeting failed to put an end to the political turmoil in the country, opposition leaders said. Levan Gachechiladze, one of the four who met with Saakashvili for two hours, said afterwards that the meeting had ended with "no result," adding: "Our visions are completely different."
The president had agreed to the talks in response to the events of the last week, which saw anti-government protests, clashes with police and a short-lived mutiny.
More than 10,000 people attended protests on Saturday, and a smaller crowd of 3,000 returned on Sunday. The mostly peaceful protests are part of a series of demonstrations that have disrupted traffic and daily life in the capital city since they began on April 9. The protests briefly turned violent last Wednesday, when clashes with police left dozens wounded.
At the meeting on Monday, the president faced four leading members of the splintered opposition -- Irakli Alasania, Levan Gachechiladze, Salome Zurabishvili and Kakha Shartava.
Missing from the meeting was Nino Burdzhanadze , the former speaker of the parliament, who co-led the country's "Rose Revolution" with Saakashvili in 2003, who believes that any negotiations would be "senseless." "Only the president's resignation can end this country's crisis. We mustn't take a single step back," Burdzhanadze told protesters gathered for Saturday's rally, according to the Associated Press.
Some have speculated that a divided opposition and waning public support will prevent the protestors from attaining their goals. "Around 30-40 percent of Georgians are not very happy with their position and would support the opposition," Soso Tsintsadze, the dean of Georgia's Diplomatic Academy, told the AP. "But divisions within the opposition, the lack of a single leader and a clear program means they can't mobilize these disaffected people to fight."
In the meantime, the protests are scheduled to continue at least until the end of May so as to disrupt a planned military parade. "We won't give up," says Suliko Targamadze, an engineer, who believes that Saakashvili has "made his own citizens prisoners to his policies."
A Coup Thus Far Bloodless
Demonstrations against Saakashvili were given new impetus on May 5, when a tank unit based outside Tbilisi rebelled before quickly laying down arms. The unit that mutinied happened to be the same one that led Saakashvili's August 2008 offensive against the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The attack ignited a five-day war with Russia , which has now effectively wrested both South Ossetia and another breakaway republic, Abkhazia, from Georgian control.
In addition to losing these two separatist regions, Georgia has also lost access to Russian markets, which were formerly the primary market for its agricultural products. This loss has significantly contributed to the poverty gripping the country, which has caused further discontent with Saakashvili's policies.
On the same day as the bloodless coup attempt, Saakashvili's government accused the Russians of being behind it. Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told reporters: "We have information that the rebels were in direct contact with Russians, that they were receiving orders from them, that they were receiving money from them." Russia has denied the charges as "feverish delirium."
But Western military observers in Tbilisi don't see it that way. In their eyes, Saakashvili's accusations toward Russia are mere propaganda. In fact, according to information they've been able to gather, the officers that led the coup did so because they refused to have their unit deployed against demonstrators.
A week before the short-lived rebellion, demonstrators had tried to storm police headquarters in Tbilisi. And for a brief moment, it looked like the country might be about to return to civil war.
Further tension was added by the fact that Georgian forces were about to enter into month-long military exercises involving over a dozen NATO members. The plans had led Russia to muster its troops on its side of the border and to send its Black Sea fleet to anchor off the former Soviet republic's western shore.