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Georgian leader to meet with opposition forces

Associated Press / May 11, 2009
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TBILISI, Georgia - The Georgian president agreed yesterday to demands for a meeting with opposition forces, raising the prospect of an end to demonstrations that have crippled the capital for more than a month.

The talks between President Mikhail Saakashvili and his political opponents were planned for Monday afternoon, less than a week after a violent clash between police and opposition protesters that left dozens injured.

Opposition forces who have led a campaign of mostly peaceful protests in Tbilisi have insisted the president step down, saying he backtracked on democratic promises and provoked Georgia's disastrous war with Russia last year.

"Our demand remains unchanged - that is for Saakashvili to resign," opposition politician Georgy Khaindrava said yesterday.

The protests that began April 9 have brought the Georgian capital to a standstill, blocking roads and obstructing entrances to government buildings.

Initially, the opposition drew tens of thousands of supporters, but public enthusiasm had waned until the violent clashes Wednesday injected new vigor into the opposition movement. More than 10,000 people attended Saturday's protest outside Parliament to call for Saakashvili's resignation.

Yesterday, a much smaller crowd of about 3,000 people gathered at the same spot.

Saakashvili, who has refused to step down before his term is up in 2013, is due to meet with four members of Georgia's disparate opposition coalition. Specialists said the opposition, which has been losing support because of its own divisions, has little choice politically but to maintain its key demand for Saakashvili to resign.