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Georgia Deploys Troops as Protesters Call for President's Resignation - 2003-11-11


Interior ministry troops are standing guard in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, where hundreds of protesters are pressing for President Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation, claiming fruad in last week's parliamentary election.

The troops were ordered to Tbilisi and have been deployed around key buildings, including President Shevardnadze's offices.

The troops are also standing guard outside Georgia's parliament, where hundreds of protesters spent a cold, rainy night under plastic sheeting.

Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili says the deployment has nothing to do with the ongoing political tensions. But residents are not so sure. Russian television broadcast pictures from Georgia, in which families were shown blocking the passage of several tanks as they made their way to the capital.

At least four members of Georgia's political opposition have begun a hunger strike, and say they will not eat, until President Shevardnadze resigns.

The opposition initially began the protests to allege major vote-rigging and ballot fraud in the parliamentary election. But their complaints quickly expanded to encompass their displeasure with Mr. Shevardnadze's rule, which they see as corrupt, and to demand his resignation.

The Georgian President has said he will not step down and accuses the opposition of trying to engineer a coup.

But Mr. Shevardnadze said he is ready to meet with the opposition as many times as necessary to bring the standoff to a peaceful end. There has only been one such meeting, this past Sunday.

Western leaders are appealing for calm from both sides. The U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, met President Shevardnadze's minister of state Avtandil Dzhorbenadze to reiterate the need for peaceful dialogue between the government and the opposition.