TBILISI: Around 25,000 Georgians protested Sunday against the election of a ruling party-backed candidate to the presidency and demanded snap parliamentary polls in a move that threatens to complicate the transition of power in the Western-backed nation.
Holding Georgian and EU flags, protesters alleged vote-buying and other irregularities as they packed Rustaveli Avenue in front of the parliament building in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi. The former reformist president and leader of the 2003 “Rose Revolution” Mikheil Saakashvili addressed the huge crowd by video link from Amsterdam, where he lives in self-imposed exile.
“Misha! Misha!” chanted supporters as the flamboyant 50-year-old politician appeared on a big screen.
“Georgia’s future is being born on this square today,” said Saakashvili, accused by the authorities of abuse of power. “We will fight peacefully but we will never give up,” he said, flashing the victory sign at the end of his speech.
On Wednesday, former French diplomat Salome Zurabishvili was elected the ex-Soviet nation’s first woman president, beating a candidate backed by an alliance led by Saakashvili’s party.
Zurabishvili has said her election was a step forward for women and a move closer to Europe.
But opposition leaders including Zurabishvili’s rival Grigol Vashadze have refused to accept the result, pointing to instances of alleged vote-buying, voter intimidation and ballot-stuffing in the election’s second round.
Fresh street protesters could spark concern for the country, which has seen civil wars, mass demonstrations and unrest since gaining its independence in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. The vote was the small South Caucasus nation’s last direct leadership poll as it transitions to a parliamentary form of governance.
In the first round, held in October, French-born Zurabishvili failed to take the 50-percent-plus-one-vote needed to win outright.