Page last updated at 02:54 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 03:54 UK

Defiant but helpless in Tbilisi

By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Tbilisi

Georgians rally to hear President Mikhail Saakashvili speak on 12 August
Tens of thousands of people attended the Tbilisi rally

In the intensive care unit of Tbilisi's Gudashauri hospital, the wounded are battling for survival.

Outside, relatives and friends crowd the courtyard, waiting for news, while the ambulances continue to drive in, one after another, bringing more patients.

"They just keep coming, and if in the first days of the conflict we mostly had soldiers, now it's the civilians who are coming in," says Dr Zaza Sinauridze.

Dr Sinauridze says that his hospital alone received almost 500 patients in the past five days. And many of them came in on Tuesday, the day after the Georgian military withdrew from the conflict zone near South Ossetia.

Tanks and armoured vehicles lay abandoned along the road. There was no sign of Georgian troop presence anywhere in the region but heavy shelling continued through the morning. The hospital in Gori was hit, along with one of the administrative buildings.

The politicians are now speaking of a truce. On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy went to Moscow and then came to Tbilisi with a ceasefire deal, which the Georgian president has since endorsed.

But it is only a plan, not an agreement. Moscow has already said it no longer sees the Georgian president as a reliable partner, the rhetoric on both sides continues to be extremely hostile, and the violence has not yet stopped. Few here believe that it will.

Saakashvili's thinking

"Russians will not calm down until they get the whole of Georgia, they just won't let us go," Roman told me.

But what was he [Mikhail Saakashvili] thinking trying to fight the Russians?
70-year-old injured Georgian man
I met Roman, 70, at the Gudashauri hospital.

He was hit by shrapnel when the Russian warplanes bombed his village just outside Gori. I asked him, who he blamed for the crisis.

"I blame Mikhail Saakashvili," he said.

"He is a good guy, and I agree with what he says. But what was he thinking trying to fight the Russians? Even the Germans lost to them. How can our tiny nation win against this monster?"

But on Tuesday, tens of thousands came to Tbilisi's main square to back the president.

Like many, Mariam Khevsuridze told me she did not like many of his policies. But she liked it even less, she added, when the outside power told her who she should be voting for.

"I don't blame Saakashvili for this conflict," she said.

"It was a clear provocation on the Russian side, they are just punishing us for being prosperous, for being ambitious and for wanting a life that is different from theirs."

Despite thousands of white and red flags and loud music, the mood at the rally was sombre.

There were tears and a long minute of silence to honour those who had died.

Young boys distributed flyers calling on people to donate food and clothes for thousands who have fled the violence. Then President Saakashvili came out to speak.

It was a long, passionate speech. And at one point he reminded the Georgians how Russian tanks rolled into this square in 1991. Today, it is still arguably this country's more painful collective memory.

Never again, the Georgian president said, should we allow the Russians to run us over.


But Georgia has lost this war.

It took the country 20 years to get rid of the Russian troops. Now they are back on Georgian soil.

As the gathering came to an end, the Georgian national anthem blasted from the loudspeakers. Everyone sang along.

It was a show of unity and defiance against the neighbour who many here see as a real enemy now.

But as the crowd slowly dispersed, it was a sense of helplessness against Russia's might that began to set in.

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