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Georgia's Opposition Calls for Massive Protests as President Refuses to Step Down - 2003-11-18

The former Soviet republic of Georgia is bracing for more protests Tuesday as both supporters and opponents of embattled President Eduard Shevardnadze vow to take to the streets. The political crisis in the Caucasian mountain nation is now in its third week.

Key opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili has called on his supporters throughout Georgia to march on the capital, Tbilisi, to take part in a mass rally later this week. Some of his supporters have been protesting near the parliament building in Tbilisi for days.

At the same time, supporters of a rival opposition group are planning their own march in the capital. Known as Revival, this group supports President Shevardnadze's refusal to step down, as his more radical opponents have been demanding.

Police say they are ready to follow Mr. Shevardnadze's orders to take firm action against any moves by demonstrators that are illegal.

Mr. Shevardnadze refused to resign, but promised to set up a commission to investigate irregularities in the disputed November 2 parliamentary election, which triggered the protests. He also pledged to punish any election officials who may have rigged the vote, as the opposition charges.

The commission is unlikely to satisfy Mr. Saakashvili and his supporters who insist that the only solution to the crisis is for Mr. Shevardnadze to step down.