|Opposition protest rally at Tbilisi Hippodrome on January 20.
The nine-party opposition coalition told tens of thousands of supporters at a rally on January 20 that it would not step back and would continue its struggle against Mikheil Saakashvili, whom it described as “a false president” and “the de facto president.” His legitimacy, the leaders of the bloc said, would not be recognised.
“We do not need any negotiations [with the authorities],” Levan Gachechiladze, Saakashvili’s main rival in the presidential election, told supporters at the rally at the Tbilisi Hippodrome. “We should have free elections and free media; if there is no free election or free media, then there will be no election at all and we reserve the right to rename our United People's Movement [the bloc's formal name], the United People's Rebellion, and it will be the will of the Georgian people… A real president needs his people’s mandate; Saakashvili is not our president.”
“We will not allow civil confrontation to take place; we will never let bloodshed to occur; not a single chair [referring to official posts] is worth one man’s blood. But we promise that they [the authorities] will be deprived of the police and the army like they have been deprived of public support. We warn the authorities if there is no free judiciary, free media, free election administrations… we will force Saakashvili to flee the country.”
Protesters started to amass at the Hippodrome shortly after Saakashvili was sworn in as President at a grandiose ceremony on Rustaveli Avenue, followed by a military parade. The protest rally was also joined by the opposition New Rights and Labor parties.
MP Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party told the rally that the opposition bloc had a new slogan – “We will not stop, we will not step back” – replacing its previous one – “We are not afraid.”
“This is a false president,” MP Dzidziguri said. “I want to tell those foreign guests and representatives of foreign governments who attended the inauguration: do not go against the Georgian people… One should be legitimised not when foreign states recognize you, but when you are recognized by your own people…. We will continue our fight everyday and every minute to achieve our goal: to remove Saakashvili as both the de facto and de jure president. This is not difficult to achieve.”
Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party said: “It makes no difference who is the president. The most important thing is whom the people recognize as President.”
“It is a shame that the presidential inauguration was accompanied by tanks and aircraft. This was a huge shame and a huge provocation staged by the authorities against its own people,” Khidasheli said. “Our way is not the way of confrontation. In the last four months we have demonstrated that we are a peaceful, freedom-loving and democratic people.”
Salome Zourabichvili, leader of the Georgia’s Way Party, said: “This de facto president has just held some kind of de facto inauguration.”
“On the one hand this is the day of falsehoods and lies involving the inauguration of a self-styled president; on the other hand this is the day of hope, because so many people have turned out to say that they will not tolerate this lie,” Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of the Freedom Party, said. “We will fight to the end until this country is set free of Saakashvili and the remnants of his [regime]”
“Today’s presidential inauguration has in fact been foiled because it lacked the main thing – the people,” MP Kakha Kukava of the Conservative Party said. “The people are here; hence the inauguration is here.”
Koba Davitashvili, leader of Party of People, said: “I want to tell every foreign guest who has arrived for the inauguration ceremony: Georgia is here and Georgia does not recognize Mikheil Saakashvili.”
MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party, which is not part of the nine-party coalition, said: “We should say no to any type of cooperation with them [the authorities]. We should state it clearly that Saakashvili is not our president. Georgia now has three self-styled presidents [referring to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionist leaders] and they should all flee Georgia. We should have a political and moral disobedience campaign aimed against the authorities.”
Nona Gaprindashvili, a five-time world chess champion, who is one of the leaders of the newly set up party backing tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, also addressed protesters at the rally. She said that she too would not recognizing Saakashvili as the legitimate president.
The rally follows recent remarks by several opposition politicians, indicating it was pointless, with Saakashvili in place as President, to demand a run-off between him and Gachechiladze. Instead, they suggested it was better to apply pressure, through protest rallies, to secure concessions from the authorities. Gaining control of key institutions, particularly the election administrations to ensure genuinely free and fair parliamentary elections this spring, is seen as a viable possibility.