Opposition leaders told supporters on Thursday evening that they would keep vigil all night and called on supporters to again gather at the rally at 3pm local time on Friday.
“Those willing to stay can stay here together with [the opposition] leaders, but what is the most important we should all gather here everyday at 3pm… and it will continue unless Mikheil Saakashvili resigns,” Levan Gachechiladze, an opposition politician, told protesters late on Thursday afternoon.
Irakli Alasania, the leader of opposition Alliance for Georgia, reiterated that the opposition leaders would wait for the authorities’ response to the ultimatum that expires at 3pm on Friday and then would announce about the further action plan.
The first day of protest rally in downtown Tbilisi has gathered tens of thousands of people, but less than over one hundred thousand as promised by the opposition leaders.
Numbers matter for both the opposition and the authorities and both tend to put figures favorable for them.
Irakli Alasania, the leader of opposition Alliance for Georgia, said that according to “conservative estimations” 130,000 people were gathered when the rally was at its peak. Other opposition leaders put the figure of 150,000.
The Interior Ministry, however, said there were only around 25,000 protesters.
But calculation based on crowd density and the area occupied by protesters, indicates that neither of these figures seem to be credible.
The most densely packed area was immediately outside the parliament and its adjacent areas with roughly up to 8,000 square meters. Density of the crowd was significantly lower beyond that area. The probable number of protesters at the rally at its peak between 2pm and 4pm seems to be between 50,000 to 60,000. The number started to dwindle by the evening.
EU envoy for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, who along with other foreign diplomats is watching closely the ongoing rallies, has declined to comment on numbers.
When asked is he agreed with the police figure of 25,000 Semneby replied: “I will not give any estimate at this stage. We do not have basis for making any such estimate.”
Thousands of people were also gathered at the rally held in Batumi, Adjara Autonomous Republic, which was led by former PM Zurab Nogaideli’s opposition party Movement for Fair Georgia.
There have been reports coming from provinces throughout the day, in particular from the Kakheti region, that the police officers were barring movement of minibuses towards Tbilisi to hinder arrival of protesters from the regions. The Interior Ministry has strongly denied the reports.
Part of the protesters, led by Levan Gachechiladze and some other opposition leaders, moved their rally to the Georgian public broadcaster, complaining that the public TV was not properly covering the protest rally. Protesters briefly scuffled with the security guard of the public TV, but the incident was soon resolved and opposition leaders afterwards met with the public TV management. After the meeting Levan Gachechiladze told protesters that they had received guarantees from the television station that more airtime would be allocated to the opposition.
The national television, including Rustavi 2 TV and Imedi TV have been providing extensive coverage of the protest rallies in their regular news bulletins on April 9 and two Tbilisi-based television stations, Kavkasia and Maestro were airing live coverage of the rally.