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Russian special services behind Tbilisi protests - Saakashvili

Georgia's president said in a TV address to the nation Wednesday that Russia's special services were behind recent events in Tbilisi.
TBILISI, November 7 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's president said in a TV address to the nation Wednesday that Russia's special services were behind recent events in Tbilisi.

"Our special services report an alternative [Georgian] government has been formed in Russia," Mikheil Saakashvili said in his address.

"Monitoring conducted by our special services showed funds and instructions had been issued," the president said, adding that a foreign spy had been arrested amid mass anti-presidential protests, and that the suspect would be expelled.

On Wednesday, after hundreds of riot police with shields and batons broke up a rally outside the Georgian parliament, opposition supporters staged a new protest on the city's Rike Square. The police again employed brutal methods to dispel the crowd, including rubber bullets and tear gas, the authorities said 360 people were injured in the clashes. The protesters demanded President Saakashvili's resignation and early elections.

Saakashvili also said Wednesday that opposition rallies in central Tbilisi were forcefully dispersed in order to allow the free movement of traffic. "We decided it was necessary to clear the [Rustaveli] road to restore normal traffic in the city," he said in a televised address.

Saakashvili said it was regrettable that police used violent physical methods to disperse opposition supporters. "This causes a great pain in my heart. I regret the use of batons in clashes between demonstrators and police," he said. The measures were "not useful for Georgia," he added.

The president proposed launching talks with the opposition whose supporters have been rallying in central Tbilisi for the past six days. "I will reiterate statements made by Patriarch Ilia II. He said we need to launch dialogue," Saakashvili told the nation.

Protesters accuse the president of corruption, authoritarianism, and failed economic reforms. Many continue to support former defense minister Irakly Okruashvili, previously a key ally of the president, who in late September publicly accused Saakashvili of ordering the murders of political opponents and of plotting to forcibly seize the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia.

Days after Okruashvili made the comments, he was arrested and charged with blackmail, money laundering, and abuse of office, but was later released on bail.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry declared three Russian embassy officials "personae non gratae."

"The Russian ambassador to Georgia was informed during today's meeting at the Foreign Ministry that three officials from the Russian diplomatic mission have been declared personae non gratae," a diplomatic source said.

Moreover, Russia's ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko was summoned to the Georgian Foreign Ministry.

The Georgian embassy in Moscow said Wednesday Georgia's Ambassador to Russia, Irakly Chubinishvili, will leave Russia for Tbilisi Thursday, where he was recalled over the latest events in Georgia.

The European Union and NATO said they were closely watching the situation in Georgia and urged the country's authorities and opposition to refrain from confrontation. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's press service said Solana's special representative will head for Georgia to hold talks with the conflicting sides.

Saakashvili, who has pushed for NATO membership for Georgia, until recently enjoyed Western backing in his ongoing dispute with Russia, in particular over two breakaway regions that have strong ties with Moscow.

Saakashvili has flatly rejected the opposition's demands, and accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest in the ex-Soviet Caucasus state. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, dismissed the charges as absurd on Tuesday. "I would not like to comment on the actions of this political figure. The farce that accompanied the Georgian leadership's actions is obvious to all." The comments triggered an angry reaction from the Georgian government and opposition alike.

Russia-Georgia relations aggravated in the fall of 2006 after Georgian law enforcement agencies detained four Russian servicemen on suspicion of espionage September 27. In October, Georgia handed the officers over to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which took part in the negotiations to get them back.

Russia then recalled its ambassador in Tbilisi, Kovalenko, to Moscow for consultations and announced the evacuation of employees at Russian companies and their families. On January 22, 2007 Kovalenko returned to Tbilisi.

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