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Page last updated at 16:27 GMT, Sunday, 23 November 2008

Georgia remembers Rose Revolution

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, file pic from 13 November 2008
Saakashvili said Georgians should show unity as they did in 2003

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has urged unity as his country marks the fifth anniversary of the Rose Revolution that swept him to power.

Celebrations were muted in the ex-Soviet satellite still reeling from its five-day war with Russia this August.

The president called for Georgians to unite against a "dangerous threat" from Russia as they did in the bloodless revolution of 2003.

Opposition groups held rallies calling for Mr Saakashvili's resignation.

Nino Burjanadze, a fellow architect of the Rose Revolution and former parliamentary speaker, formally inaugurated a new opposition party, the Democratic Movement-United Georgia movement, in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

Mrs Burjanadze criticised Mr Saakashvili's "increasing authoritarianism" and "bad decision making" - in particular, his decision to go to war with Russia in August over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Meanwhile, scores of opposition supporters protested outside the Tbilisi office of a television station which was closed down last November after broadcasting reports that were critical of the president.

While the Imedi television channel is now back on the air, correspondents say it is much less critical of the government.

'Challenge of the empire'

In a televised address on Saturday, Mr Saakashvili said that instead of celebrating, Georgians should show unity as they did five years ago.

We need strength and unity. We must believe in the future and have courage
Mikhail Saakashvili
Georgian president

Referring to the August conflict, he said: "We were attacked because of the success of the last five years, it was the last challenge of the empire against us."

"We have never faced such a dangerous threat," he said. "We need strength and unity. We must believe in the future and have courage."

The only planned anniversary event was a concert on Sunday at Tbilisi's ornate opera house.

Georgia has seen many improvements in the last five years, says the BBC's Tom Esslemont in the Georgian capital: foreign investment, better ties with the West and - last year - a dramatic rise in growth rates.

While the August conflict has made some question Mr Saakashvili's ability to govern, if Mrs Burjanadze does one day want to become president, she will have to find a way of enticing voters away from the still popular incumbent, our correspondent adds.

Rose-tinted history

On 7 August, Georgia tried to retake South Ossetia by force after a series of lower-level clashes with Russian-backed rebels.

map

Russia launched a counter-attack and the Georgian troops were ejected from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second breakaway region, days later.

Talks aimed at defusing tensions between the countries were last week mediated by the United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Geneva.

Although there appeared to be agreement that several thousand refugees should be allowed to return home and security in the region needed to be improved, major differences remained over the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, correspondents say.

Georgia was reeling from years of post-Soviet economic decay, instability and civil war when, in November 2003, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against flawed election results.

They demanded the resignation of the pro-Russian Eduard Shevardnadze, who had ruled Georgia for more than 30 years.

Troops were deployed but, on 23 November, demonstrators forced their way into the parliament building where Mr Saakashvili held a rose above his head and demanded the resignation of the 75-year-old president.

In January 2004, Mr Saakashvili was elected president on a promise of democratic reform, and his National Movement-Democratic Front party won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections two months later.

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