The Parliament of Georgia has unanimously approved President Saakashvili's 15-day state of emergency following preliminary government and opposition reconciliation talks under the auspices of the country's Orthodox Patriarch. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from Tbilisi.
Approval of the 15-day state of emergency was unanimous thanks to a boycott by 101 opposition lawmakers. This allowed the remaining 149 pro-government deputies to vote as one in favor of the controversial measure, which will keep independent news broadcasts off the air until the state of emergency is lifted. President Saakashvili has the option of ending it sooner.
The Georgian leader announced the state of emergency on Wednesday after riot troops used force to break up anti-government demonstrations in Tbilisi.
Also Friday, the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, held separate meetings in Tbilisi with representatives of the government and opposition in hopes of reconciling the two sides.
Pro-government lawmaker Khatuna Gogorishvili participated. In remarks to the VOA, she said the Patriarch is an individual that appeals to reason, not emotions.
Unfortunately, says Gogorishvili, some of our colleagues from the opposition understand the words dialogue and talks as ultimatum. To sit behind a table with them does not mean we agree with all of their demands.
Opposition members agree with Gogorishvili about the issue of consensus. But Goga Khaindrava, who met with the Patriarch as an opposition representative, told VOA that the government is standing in the way of a dialogue. Khaidrava was President Saakashvili's former Conflict Resolutions Minister.
Khaindrava says the president's words usually amount to public relations. He told the entire world he'll do this, that and the other, but repressions against our colleagues continue nevertheless.
The former presidential ally said the opposition will only talk with Saakashvili under the condition that the first meeting be held in the presence of Patriarch Ilia. Speaking to reporters after talks with both sides, the Church leader praised the decision to hold early presidential elections.
The president's smart decision to hold early elections relieves mounting tensions in Georgia. Ilia also called on Georgians to maintain the peace and to speak properly with one another.
The date of Georgia's presidential election was a major factor in six days of opposition protests in Tbilisi. The opposition wanted the date moved up from November to March. The president initially refused, but then went even further, setting the date for January 5. This gives the opposition little time to agree on a candidate and to mount a campaign. Some analysts say this will favor the president, but former minister Khaindrava says Mr. Saakashvili is so discredited that the opposition will win the election.