Page last updated at 20:51 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

Georgians rally against president


Opposition activists on the march in Georgia

Thousands of opposition activists have demonstrated in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi - their first major protest since the conflict with Russia.

Critics have accused President Mikhail Saakashvili of starting a war with Russia that Georgia could not win.

"We are starting a new wave of civil confrontation, and we will not give up until new elections are called," opposition leader Kakha Kukava said.

A year ago opposition rallies were broken up by police.

Rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon were used in a crackdown that ended days of protests but opened the government up to accusations of heavy-handedness.

Following those protests, Mr Saakashvili went on to call snap elections, which he won.

Critical time

There were about 10,000 protesters at Friday's rally, according to estimates by reporters at the scene.

They crowded the steps outside parliament, holding banners and waving flags, calling for democratic reforms.

They were fewer than the 30,000 the opposition had hoped for, and fewer than at protests a year ago.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili speaks in Latvia (01/11/2008)
Mr Saakashvili said shortcomings in the military had to be eliminated

But while these do not pose as much of a threat to the president as the 2007 protests, they do come at critical time, says the BBC's Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi.

Mr Saakashvili is facing questions, both at home and abroad, about whether Georgia used indiscriminate force at the outset of the war in August.

The president is adamant Georgia was provoked by Russia, and has called for an inquiry.

At least five opposition groups were involved in Friday's protests, though one of the leading parties, the Christian Democrats, did not join in.

Analysts say some Georgians are reluctant to stoke unrest, fearing that will be exploited by Russia.

'Enemy at door'

Earlier this week Mr Saakashvili dismissed his army chief, Zaza Gogava, following a review of the conflict with Russia in August.

He said "the enemy" was still at Georgia's door and he had to address "shortcomings" in the military.

The conflict in the region began on 7 August when Georgia tried to retake its breakaway region of South Ossetia by force after a series of lower-level clashes with Russian-backed rebels.

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

Russian forces remain in the two regions, and Moscow has backed their declarations of independence.

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