Thursday, November 8, 2007

No Tranquility in Georgia

On November 8, 2007, troops occupied the center of the Georgian capital Tbilisi on to enforce a state of emergency imposed after a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Hundreds of Interior Ministry officers in khaki uniforms and armed with hard rubber truncheons patrolled Rustaveli Avenue, the site of the main protests by demonstrators calling for pro-US President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign.

Riot police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, and Saakashvili announced a 15 day nationwide state of emergency, in which news broadcasts on independent stations were halted and all demonstrations banned.

The American-educated Saakashvili, who is trying to shake off centuries of Russian influence and align the former Soviet republic with the West, has accused Moscow of instigating the protests and expelled three Russian diplomats.

Tensions with Russia have risen as Saakashvili has sought to establish central government control over two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that have run their own affairs with Russian support since wars in the early 1990s.

In a nearly 30-minute televised address, Saakashvili said he regretted the use of force, but argued that it was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos.

The state of emergency must be approved by parliament within two days.

Many of Saakashvili's opponents support his aims, including closer ties with the United States and Europe.

But there has been increasing disillusionment among critics who say he has not moved fast enough to spread growing wealth. Opponents accuse him of sidestepping the rule of law, creating a system marked by violations of property rights, a muzzled media and political arrests.

Russia, which views most countries of the former Soviet Union as its sphere of influence, has deepened ties with the separatist regions and imposed a trade and transportation blockade on Georgia.

On May 10, 2005, while U.S. President George W. Bush was giving a speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square, Vladimir Arutinian threw a live hand grenade at Saakashvili and Bush.

It landed in the crowd about 65 feet from the podium after hitting a girl, but it did not detonate. Arutinian was arrested in July of that year, but before his capture he killed one law enforcement agent. He was subsequently convicted of the attempted assassinations of Saakashvili and Bush, and given a life sentence.

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