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Posted: 11/23/2003 6:08:54 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 11/23/2003 6:09:42 AM EDT by Airwolf]
Uh, oh... I knew this was coming.

I visited Tbilisi in the mid 80's and have fond memories of the place. I hope there's something left when the dust settles.

www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_world/view/58718/1/.html

Thousands mass in Tbilisi as Shevardnadze fights for survival

TBILISI : Thousands of protestors massed in the Georgian capital amid diplomatic efforts to resolve the country's political crisis, a day after demonstrators stormed parliament forcing President Eduard Shevardnadze to flee the city.

In a possible sign that the influential security forces could defect from Shevardnadze's side after weeks of mounting protests, the opposition claimed the hundreds-strong national guard had joined their cause.

Opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, who has charged that parliamentary elections on November 2 which returned Shevardnadze's government to power were rigged, called on supporters thronged outside the parliament building to seize the interior ministry and state television station.

"Today is the decisive day," Saakashvili said. "Thousands of people must go to the ministry of interior and seize the building."

In an apparent bid to ease the tensions, Shevardnadze told the country's opposition in a televised address that he was ready to discuss holding early presidential and parliamentary elections in the Caucasus country.

"I am ready for dialogue and if you want, to discuss early presidential and parliamentary elections, but only after you leave the (parliament) buildings."

On Saturday, angry protestors stormed the parliament, forcing Shevardnadze to flee. The 75-year-old leader, who was elected in 1995, later declared a state of emergency as the opposition nominated their own acting president.

Shevardnadze's critics allege that despite once being a darling of the West for helping to end the Cold War, he has allowed powerful interests to get away with corruption in exchange for their political loyalty.

Georgia, which is of vital strategic interest to the West as a transit route for oil from the new fields of the Caspian Sea, is now facing its worst political crisis since a civil war was fought out on the cobbled streets of Tbilisi more than a decade ago.

But the demonstrations have so far been peaceful, giving rise to talk of a new "velvet revolution".

Thousands of people, including families, children and the elderly, streamed down Tbilisi's streets on Sunday toward the parliament, where under sunny skies protestors waved opposition red and white flags and flashed victory signs.

There was no visible police presence on the capital's streets as Defence Minister David Tevzadze sought to calm tensions a day after 30,000 people rallied in the city.

"There is no order from the commander in chief to use force," Tevzadze said in a televised address. "The president warned me that under no circumstances should measures be taken that could lead to bloodshed."

Hours later, an officer in the interior ministry's special forces told AFP that 50 members of his unit had switched allegiance to the opposition.

"We don't have a right to act against the people and we have decided to join them," said Georgy Gulua.

But Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, remained defiant in the face of demands for him to step down.

Amid intense international diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff peacefully, he held two hours of crisis talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Sunday.

Ivanov, who had met opposition leader Saakashvili shortly after flying into Tbilisi overnight, did not make any comments after the talks at Shevardnadze's residence outside the capital.

Shevardnadze also talked by telephone overnight with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who reportedly said he would visit Georgia soon, without giving a date.

Ivanov held further talks during the day on Sunday with the opposition which has declared former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze acting president pending new elections.

"We need peace and a peaceful solution to this conflict," Burjanadze said in an interview with CNN television, echoing earlier opposition calls for a "velvet revolution" along the lines of the peaceful overthrow of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Official results of the November 2 election said it was won by Shevardnadze's party and supporters. But the opposition -- along with foreign governments and international observers -- said it was marred by fraud and has demanded Shevardnadze's resignation and fresh elections.
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