Georgian President Calls Early Elections to Quiet Protests
He also promised to lift the state of emergency he called late Wednesday after a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, saying “the situation in Georgia is quickly stabilizing,” reported the Associated Press.
Troops armed with rubber clubs patrolled the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi to enforce the state of emergency, the imposition of which drew criticism from parts of the international community.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned that the 15-day state of emergency, which suspended news broadcasts on independent stations and barred all demonstrations, would jeopardize Georgia’s hopes of joining the alliance.
The riots started Nov. 2 when about 100 protesters gathered in front of the Georgian parliament, first demanding early elections and then that the U.S.-backed president resign, according to Radio Free Europe. Police moved in to disperse the group.
That action led to scuffles, and several of the activists were detained. Thousands more protesters then converged on the site, reportedly blocking the street. Hundreds of riot police responded, using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to try to break up the demonstrations, the AP reported.
Georgian health officials said 569 people sought medical attention, including 24 police officers. Twenty-eight people remained hospitalized Thursday.
Saakashvili defended the use of force, saying it was necessary to keep the former Soviet republic from sliding into chaos as it works to integrate with the West.
He accused Moscow of provoking the demonstrations and expelled three Russian diplomats, according to the AP.
Russia responded Thursday by expelling three Georgian diplomats, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on Vesti-24 television.
The Georgian presidential election was originally scheduled for late 2008, but Saakashvili said he would move it up to Jan. 5.