- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

TBILISI, GEORGIA (AP) - Thousands of people marched through Georgia’s capital Saturday on the third day of peaceful protests demanding the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Despite a steady decline in the number of demonstrators each day, their leaders vowed to resume the daily protests with new vigor after a break for Palm Sunday, which Georgians and other Orthodox Christians celebrate Sunday.

Georgia’s interior minister, who controls the police, said he was convinced the protests were effectively over.

Saakashvili, whose second term runs through 2013, has countered the protests by calling for talks with his opponents.

The protest leaders, who head more than a dozen opposition parties, have long shunned talks. But on Friday they said they were willing to talk to the president, if certain conditions were met.

No talks have been scheduled, but European Union special representative Peter Semneby said he was in touch with both sides to help bring them together. “It’s in the air that this could happen,” he told The Associated Press.

The protesters are most angry with Saakashvili over his handling of the brief war last summer with Russia. The Georgian army fled ahead of invading Russian troops, and the country lost territory as separatists and their Russian allies took full control of two breakaway Georgian regions.

Saakashvili’s actions during the war “were not mistakes,” said Maria Loladze, 82. “He should be put on trial.”

The protesters also accuse the president of concentrating power in his hands and embarrassing his countrymen by his erratic behavior.

Many Georgians still support Saakashvili, who has overseen significant economic growth, although he faces criticism for not doing enough to help the poor and create jobs.

The crowds have steadily diminished since the protests began on Thursday, when tens of thousands of protesters packed the capital’s central avenue.

About 10,000 people protested Saturday in three locations: in front of parliament, outside Saakashvili’s residence and at the headquarters of the main state television channel, where they called for the demonstrations to be broadcast live.

At the president’s residence, protesters threw carrots and released a rabbit onto the grounds, a reference to their claims that Saakashvili behaved like a coward during the war.

Both the opposition and the government have expressed a commitment for the protests to take place peacefully. Police have not intervened, even when protesters have blocked traffic.

Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said Friday that police would not disperse the protests no matter how long they continued. “But it’s already over,” he told the AP.

Opposition leaders said they were disappointed there has been no response from Saakashvili’s administration to their expressed readiness to hold talks.

But the opposition offer was not clear.

Some opposition leaders said they would only agree to talks on live television and that the only subject to be discussed was Saakashvili’s departure.

Others were open to different formats.

___

Associated Press writer Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili contributed to this report.

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