|EU wary of Georgia tensions ahead of major rally|
|March 27, 2009|
European diplomats are trying to appease mounting tensions in Tbilisi ahead of opposition protests scheduled for 9 April with the political aim of forcing president Mikhail Saakashvili to step down.
"There is a general hope that demonstrations will take place peacefully within the constitutional framework, that was reiterated by everybody whom we met, opposition and government," Council of Europe rapporteur Mattyas Eorsi told EUobserver on Friday, upon his return from a two-day visit in Georgia.
He added that the political culture in the southern Caucasus was "not yet as developed as in most European countries," however.
The 9 April rally marks 20 years since an anti-Soviet demonstration was dispersed by the Red Army, leading to 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
"The problem is that even if party leaders decide not to have any violence, you can never exclude that individuals [will] make trouble," Mr Eorsi said.
"The political target of the opposition is to force the president to step down. I can't say it's an illegal purpose, it happens in other countries as well, that demonstrators would like to remove the current government. I have no problem with this demand, as long as they conduct it peacefully. It happened in my country as well," the Hungarian liberal MP said.
On Monday, 10 opposition activitsts were arrested and charged for planning a coup and having illegally aquired weapons, as shown in videos filmed with hidden cameras. The move was labelled a "smear campaign" by opposition leader Nino Burjanadze, a former ally of Mr Saakashvili, who said those people were infiltrated by the government in order to discredit her organisation.
EU ambassadors in Tbilisi met several opposition leaders on Friday at the Czech embassy, Civil Georgia reports.
European diplomats stated that "the right to demonstrate is a part of the democratic rights of the citizens" and called on both government and the organizers of the rally, as well as participants of the demonstration "to keep the public order, to follow the laws of the country and international standards of public gathering."
Meanwhile, US diplomat Matthew Bryza, Washington's point man for the region, travelled twice to Georgia in the past two weeks, calling the 9 April protests "a defining moment politically" for both the opposition and government to show that "violence is the enemy of democracy."
Private TV stations are calling for people to rally on 9 April and force Mr Saakashvili to step down, because of the August attack on South Ossetia, which was immediately followed by a massive Russian invasion and bombings throughout Georgian territory.
The opposition lacks a prominent figure to spearhead its campaign. Ms Burjanadze was a former ally of Mr Saakashvili and her husband is still part of the government as head of the border police.
Asked if he would advise the EU monitoring mission to send some of its observers to the protests, Mr Eorsi replied that "monitoring is a very special word, our recommendation to the international community is to be present and to have a closer look on the events, in order to contribute to an increased confidence between the two parties."
As to the credibility of the charges against the arrested opposition activists, Mr Eorsi said that "this investigation must be conducted by the law-enforcing bodies. All what we can say is that there is a great need for increased transparency of the legal proceedings, because that can contribute to bigger trust, that legal bodies would do their work without influence by political forces and without any political purpose, of course."
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