Protests force Saakashvili to change speech venue
TBILISI (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters who accuse Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of flouting human rights and stifling dissent forced him to change the venue of his annual address to the nation on Friday.
Political tensions have engulfed Georgia since Saakashvili’s party lost parliamentary elections in October to a group led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Now prime minister, Ivanishvili is experiencing a difficult cohabitation with the president.
Scuffles broke out as protesters barred officials from Saakashvili’s party entering Georgia’s National Library, the venue for the speech that was due later in the day.
Protesters smashed windows and broke doors to the library and threw punches at Saakashvili allies, including the mayor of Tbilisi and a woman lawmaker who was left with a nose bleed.
Following the protest, Saakashvili made his annual address from his office and called for his opponents to abandon the rivalry he said risks undermining democracy and unity in the Caucasus nation.
“Now it is time for the new majority to give more to the Georgian people and to continue to build our national home,” Saakashvili said. “It is time for the winners of the elections to build a new floor in our collective home, rather than undermining its basement.”