Languages
Page last updated at 01:22 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 02:22 UK

'Locking down' Georgia's capital

Protest "cells" line a Tbilisi road
The cell protest and other actions are causing minor chaos in the capital

For more than two weeks, Georgia's opposition have been holding street protests calling on President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign. Organisers have barricaded the city centre and placed some of their supporters in "prison cells" to attract attention, as the BBC's Tom Esslemont reports.

Quiet streets are an unfamiliar and unnerving sight in Tbilisi.

Usually the main roads in the city centre are full of fast-moving traffic. Now the cars are unable to get access because opposition supporters have closed off the roads with manned barricades.

Take a closer look and you can see that these are not merely barriers but large metal cages designed to resemble prison cells.

'Imprisoned by Saakashvili'

Dozens of them line the streets outside government buildings.

Tbilisi protester Jaba Kajaya
The notion of imprisonment is tangible all over Georgia
Jaba Kajaya
protester

Each "cell" is complete with makeshift bars on the front and a giant number stuck on the back. Some even have a bed inside.

The jail cell is the latest campaign motif of opposition-led protests.

The message has not changed: protest organisers say President Saakashvili will have to resign before they remove the barricades.

Jaba Kajaya, 43, joined the rallies more than a week ago. He invites me into prison cell number 24 where he says he plans to spend every day and night until Mr Saakashvili stands down.

"The cells are only visible here in Tbilisi but the notion of imprisonment is tangible all over Georgia," he tells me.

"We wanted people to see how we Georgians feel imprisoned in our own country by President Saakashvili."

The use of prison cells seems to go hand in hand with another of the opposition's demands. Its leaders are calling for the release of other named anti-Saakashvili campaigners from jail - people they refer to as political prisoners.

But the government has stood firm on this score too. It denies the allegation and insists they were fairly sentenced for crimes they committed.

Patience wearing thin

The longer the protesters continue to blockade the city centre, the more public services are being disrupted.

Tbilisi taxi driver Ilia Azmaipharashvili
I make around 30% less now than I do during normal times
Ilia Azmaipharashvili
Tbilisi taxi driver

The inaccessible streets are awash with litter. Some schools have closed.

Others say business is affected, including taxi driver Ilia Azmaipharashvili.

"We cannot serve our clients anymore," he says. "We cannot get them to their destination directly because so many streets are closed. As a result of the blockades we earn less money - I make around 30% less now than I do during normal times."

The opposition leaders have refused to sit around a table with President Saakashvili and negotiate. They hope to force his resignation by continuing the rallies and their campaign of "civil disobedience" which is now causing minor chaos on the streets.

But in some quarters it seems that public tolerance of the opposition leaders may be starting to wear thin. Were that sentiment to grow, it would surely be an undesired outcome of these demonstrations.



Print Sponsor



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific