Georgian opposition candidate blasts Saakashvili's methods
( RIA Novosti ) - The Georgian opposition's single candidate to run in snap presidential elections blasted on Wednesday the incumbent president's ongoing clampdown on opponents.
Speaking during a TV link with Moscow organized by the Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency, Levan Gachechiladze said that "the terror against the opposition is continuing in Georgia, with about 1,000 activists arrested," and many injured.
"These are the results of [Mikheil] Saakashvili's policy of violence," said Gachechiladze, a former businessman, chosen by the ten-party opposition coalition as their candidate for January 5 presidential elections.
On November 7, police brutally cleared Tbilisi's central square of opposition supporters after six days of anti-government rallies. A state of emergency was declared and independent television channels were taken off the air. The next day, Saakashvili announced early polls.
Saakashvili, himself brought to power by street protests in 2003, has been criticized by the opposition for what they called increasingly totalitarian tendencies. The opposition have also sought to change the Caucasus state's presidential system by giving more power to parliament.
Gachechiladze said the country remained largely unaware of the outrages due to the ongoing media restrictions. He also claimed Saakashvili had violated laws while conducting his campaign, using state funds and administrative resources.
Although no longer as popular at home and abroad, with Western countries criticizing his handling of the political crisis, Saakashvili is still widely expected to win the presidential election.
Billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, who is financing the opposition, has announced that he will also run angering opposition leaders, who fear this may split the anti-Saakashvili vote.
Speaking about relations with Russia, which plunged to their lowest under the outspoken president, Gachechiladze said in the event of victory he would work to improve them, but would not change the line toward closer ties with the West and NATO.
"Friendly relations with Russia would be a priority, if Russia reciprocates," the opposition leader said.
He also pledged commitment to peaceful talks with the Russian-leaning breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another point of bitter contention between Tbilisi and Moscow.