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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 November 2007, 19:14 GMT
Georgia to hold early elections
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. File photo
Mr Saakashvili said he wanted a renewed mandate

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili says a presidential election will be brought forward to January, after a week of anti-government protests.

Mr Saakashvili also said a state of emergency imposed on Wednesday, after riot police broke up demonstrations, would soon be lifted.

The opposition welcomed the election call as a "victory of the people", and predicted the president would lose.

Meanwhile, two opposition figures were accused of spying and plotting a coup.

The Georgian prosecutor's office said it would be seeking charges against Shalva Natelashvili and Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, who are in hiding.

Deputy Prosecutor General Nikoloz Gvaramia said on national television that the two men were accused of plotting a coup together with three Russians from the Russian embassy.

Troops in Tbilisi
28 Sep: Thousands rally in Tbilisi against President Saakashvili after arrest of his former ally and ex-defence minister Irakli Okruashvili
2 Nov: About 50,000 attend anti-Saakashvili rally outside parliament, calling for early elections and for Mr Saakashvili to quit
7 Nov: Riot police use force to disperse protesters after six days of opposition rallies, Mr Saakashvili imposes state of emergency

Mr Saakashvili has accused Moscow's agents of inciting the unrest. Russia has rejected those claims. The countries have expelled three of each other's diplomats.

The alleged coup attempt was one of the reasons given for the imposition of an emergency.

After tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon were used against thousands of protesters, Mr Saakashvili imposed a 15-day period of special measures, which included a ban on public rallies and curbs on the media.

Riot police flooded the capital Tbilisi on Thursday to enforce the decree.

Georgia is hoping to join Nato, but the group's Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the crackdown was "not in line with Euro-Atlantic values".

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said in a statement that she was "particularly worried over reports of disproportionate use of force".

Saakashvili 'over'

In a national address on Thursday, Mr Saakashvili described the early elections as a vote of confidence in his presidency.

He said he wanted to know he had the full support of the Georgian people in order "to cope with any external threat, to manage any pressure and to do away with an attempt to annex Georgia's territory".

Moving the presidential election requires the approval of parliament, where Mr Saakashvili's supporters hold a majority.

Mikhail Saakashvili did the right thing by declaring a 48-hour emergency it was necessary
Shah, Georgia

Georgian opposition politicians said the president had "partly listened" to the people's demands, but predicted his defeat.

"Saakashvili has no chance of being re-elected... Saakashvili is done, he's over - there's no doubt about it," said Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party.

The United States welcomed the announcement of early presidential elections but urged Georgia to lift its state of emergency and restore media freedoms.

The demonstrations, which began last Friday, were the largest seen in the country since the Rose Revolution in 2003, which swept Mr Saakashvili to power.

Protesters accused the president of corruption and authoritarianism, and urged him to bring forward parliamentary elections due late next year.

In his announcement on Thursday, the president said he would hold a referendum, simultaneously with the presidential vote, on whether to bring those polls forward to the spring.

Blackout at TV network when troops storm building

Profile: Mikhail Saakashvili
08 Nov 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Georgia
03 Nov 07 |  Country profiles
Q&A: Russian-Georgian ties
07 Aug 07 |  Europe

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