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Georgian Opposition Launches Civil Disobedience Campaign - 2003-11-17


A campaign of civil disobedience is under way in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where opponents of embattled President Eduard Shevardnadze are planning another large demonstration in the capital, Tbilisi. Motorists used their horns during the morning rush hour in Tbilisi to show their dissatisfaction with President Shevardnadze.

The action, aimed at disrupting normal activities, is part of a general campaign of civil disobedience called by leaders of Georgia's political opposition.

But traffic through downtown Tbilisi was not blocked, as key opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili had hoped. Mr. Saakashvili also called for government employees to stop working and for people to cease paying their bills.

The campaign is meant to build on massive street protests that took place last week, trying to put pressure on Mr. Shevardnadze to annul the results of the November 2 election and resign from office. But the veteran political leader has refused to step down, insisting he will remain until the end of his term in 2005.

He has also warned Mr. Saakashvili that police will take action against illegal acts. The Georgian leader has met with police and military officials to discuss the situation.

Police have avoided confronting street protesters, including a rally last Friday in which up to 20,000 marched to the presidential office building.

The demonstrators claim Mr. Shevardnadze's government rigged the election, in which a pro-government bloc is slightly ahead of various opposition parties.

Taken as a whole, opposition groups won roughly 70 percent of the seats in the new parliament, including one regional group that supports the president.

But various other opposition leaders argue they would have won a complete victory if the election had been fair. Some international observers and foreign governments, including the United States, also say election irregularities were widespread.

Even Mr. Shevardnadze concedes there were problems. He announced that voting will take place again in many regions where balloting was halted or did not take place as it should have.

This is not likely to sway Mr. Saakashvili and other leaders, who have said repeatedly they will settle for nothing less than the president's resignation.

The 75-year-old Georgian leader is known for his role in helping end the Cold War while serving as foreign minister of the Soviet Union during the 1980s. But most Georgians blame Mr. Shevardnadze for the country's long economic decline during the past decade, as well as for failing to crack down on corruption.

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