- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

TBILISI, GEORGIA (AP) - Demonstrators set up tents outside the Georgian president’s residence Monday, trying to turn up the heat on the fifth day of peaceful protests demanding Mikhail Saakashvili resign.

With the number of demonstrators down since the protests began, opposition leaders changed tactics and decided to keep the picket outside Saakashvili’s residence going through the night. Protesters said they intended to camp out in about a dozen small tents set up on the street.

“The fight continues, and today I have the impression that this fight will end soon with your victory,” opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze told the crowd gathered in front of parliament before he and many of the estimated 15,000 protesters set off for the presidential residence.

“Saakashvili must leave,” said Gachechiladze, who ran against him in 2008 presidential elections. “There is no place for him in Georgia’s future.”

The president still has a strong base of support and has vowed to serve out his second term, which ends in 2013.

His critics are angriest over his handling of last summer’s brief war with Russia, which left two breakaway Georgian regions fully under the control of the separatists and their Russian allies.

Saakashvili also is accused of ruling in the interests of his inner circle and trying to stamp out dissent, while not doing enough to help the poor and create jobs.

Several thousand protesters jammed the narrow streets around the presidential residence, waving flags of various opposition parties and shouting for Saakashvili to “Go.”

But by nightfall, only a few hundred remained and it was unclear how many planned to stay overnight.

Roman Kvaratskhelia, 33, said he and a friend would sleep in a red, two-person tent placed right in front of the entryway to the gated residence.

The president should step down after he “killed people and lost our territory,” Kvaratskhelia said.

After a violent crackdown on opposition demonstrators in November 2007 brought widespread condemnation, Saakashvili’s government has pledged not to intervene in the current protests, and police have stayed away.

Opposition leaders have insisted the protests will remain peaceful, but some participants have started to call for more forceful actions.

“I’m not happy with the opposition leaders,” said Dzheiran Rostomashvili, 49. “I expected more decisive action. If they continue in this way, then Saakashvili will stay and he will destroy Georgia.”

–—

Associated Press writer Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili contributed to this report.


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