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Opposition on Defensive, as Some Slam Calling Off Protests
/ 22 Feb.'08 / 22:08
Civil Georgia

This is not the time for “radical measures”, as the authorities seem to be willing to compromise, MP Levan Gachechiladze of the nine-party opposition coalition has said.

Speaking on the Tbilisi-based pro-opposition TV station, Kavkasia, Gachechiladze struck an unusually conciliatory tone, defending, as he put it, the “unpopular” decision to call off a planned protest rally and hunger strike against many frustrated supporters who called the station.

Reflecting grass-roots anger, during the call-in TV talk show, one woman told Gachechiladze that “Burjanadze has lied to you many times and she will lie to you again. You are losing public support and the opposition will fail in the parliamentary elections.” Other callers, however, backed Gachechiladze, saying patience was required.

“We are serious people and we should not only talk about street [protests] and hunger strikes,” Gachechiladze said.  “Maybe it was an unpopular step, but it was a responsible one. Courage in politics is measured by the ability to make unpopular decisions… This decision may be very unpopular for the radicals; but I am responsible for this decision.”

To further back his stance he brought up an argument, which was also unusual for Gachechiladze’s rhetoric. “It is also important for us what the west will think about us [the opposition],” he said, referring to his earlier statement outside the Parliament that the international community needed to see that the opposition was interested in dialogue rather than just street protests and radicalism.

Gachechiladze acknowledged in the televised interview that he was “very nervous” about the unity of the nine-party coalition, fearing the decision to call off the hunger strike and protest rallies would lead to a split. “The unity of the opposition is of crucial importance for me,” he said.

The Conservative Party, Movement for United Georgia, the Georgian Troupe and the National Forum - all bloc members - were against the decision. “By doing so we have buried ourselves,” Irakli Melashvili of the National Forum said. The Republican Party, seen as the most moderate within the coalition, was instrumental in having the hunger strike canceled. Despite dissension, the opposition has said that unity has been maintained.

Gachechiladze refused to rule out what he called “radical measures.” He said that hunger strikes would be used if the opposition demands were not met.

“I'm not saying that some of my friends [within the coalition] were wrong in pushing for more radical measures; but let’s wait and time will show,” Gachechiladze added.

He said that Nino Burjanadze, the parliamentary speaker, had given “firm guarantees” that three key opposition demands would be met: the release of, what the opposition calls, “political prisoners” and the appointment of a new GPB director general by February 26 and a new chairman of the Central Election Commission by March 15. These concessions - offered by the government in its February 14 memorandum - had initially been rejected by the opposition as inadequate.

Burjanadze, however, has denied providing any “additional guarantees” to the opposition. Speaking on February 22, she said commitments given in the memorandum were “guarantees in themselves.” She suggested the opposition was trying to vindicate itself in light of cancelling protest rallies and the hunger strike.

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