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Georgian President Refuses to Step Down Amid Calls For Resignation

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced Friday he plans to stay in office until the end of his term, as thousands protested in the streets of the nation's capital, calling on the once-popular leader to step down. Opposition party leaders have launched a campaign of civil disobedience, saying that President Saakashvili's pledge to hold discussions with the opposition are not enough.

The Georgia protests have centered largely on claims by the opposition parties that say President Saakashvili's main error was to lead the country into war with Russia last year and plunge Georgians into what they call a crisis.

Opposition leader Kakha Kukava said Friday that demonstrators will block major streets in the capital, Tbilisi. Protesters said the blockades will include roads leading to the president's office and the state broadcaster.

Kukava announced the escalation of tactics at a rally of at least 25,000 protesters who gathered outside parliament for a second day of demonstrations.

At least 60,000 opposition supporters took to the streets Thursday in the biggest protest against Mr. Saakashvili since he took office in 2003. Protesters blocked the capital's main avenue outside parliament through the night and into Friday.

But Saakashvili said, while he is open to dialogue with opposition leaders, he will stay until his term ends in 2013.

"I think today, yesterday, part of the Georgian population raised their voice," Saakashvili said. "We listened and we heard. I want, therefore, to respond. I want to again reiterate our offer of a dialogue on strengthening our democratic institutions and I want to say that we mean it - this offer is real. This is profound, this is substantial and I am sure this is going to produce real results."

Protestors say that the 41-year-old president has clamped down on the media and tried to consolidate his authority. But much of the complaints revolved around the pro-Western leader's actions against Russia last summer. The president lost his right to govern, they say, in the wake of that conflict, in which Georgia lost territory when Russians took control over breakaway regions.

Opposition supporters, including Zaza Adeishvili re-iterated that they plan to use non-violent methods to achieve their goal of ousting the president. "He was brought peacefully to his position and we want him to be taken away the same way, peacefully. We do not want any violence, we want him to get out of Georgia," he said.

Police will not get involved, security officials have said, but many Georgians worry that the riot police behavior in November of 2007 will return - with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons employed.