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Opposition in Tblisi Continue Street Protest


Opposition activists in Tbilisi have picketed government buildings in a fourth day of protests against Georgian President Mikhail Shaakashvili. The Associated Press estimates 10,000 people participated, which is down from at least 50,000 on Friday. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports.

The protest grew by several thousand people toward evening, up from about 1,500 earlier in the day. Many gathered in front of the Interior Ministry, mocking its employees and urging them to join the protest.

Opposition activist Sopho Jajanashvili says demonstrators came to the Ministry to organize a so-called "Corridor of Shame." He says activists also came because they think Interior Ministry employees should be with the opposition.

Demonstrators have been demanding the resignation of President Mikhail Shaakashvili and early parliamentary elections - in April rather than late 2008. On Sunday, however, Mr. Shaakashvili rejected both demands.

Speaking on national television, the Georgian leader said presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in the autumn of 2008. Mr. Shaakashvili says that will demonstrate the country's stability and strength, and will also uphold the country's constitution.

The Georgian president also blamed Russia for conducting a campaign of lies against his government.

Meanwhile, 24 demonstrators have been hospitalized with symptoms of poisoning after drinking what opposition members said was adulterated wine distributed by a police colonel. Officials say the demonstrators were merely drunk.

Mikhail Shaakashvili came to power following mass demonstrations in 2003 that forced the previous president, Eduard Shevardnadze, to step down amid allegations of a fraudulent parliamentary election.

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