TBILISI, February 8 (RIA Novosti) – Hundreds of the Georgian president’s opponents blocked the entrance to the National Library in Tbilisi on Friday, preventing Mikheil Saakashvili from delivering his annual State of the Nation address, Georgian TV stations reported.
The protesters, who demanded Saakashvili’s resignation, gathered at the entrance, saying they wanted the embattled Georgian leader to pass through the so-called “hallway of shame.”
According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, some 200 protesters were former political prisoners arrested for participating in protest actions staged by Georgia’s opposition between 2005 and 2011. They were released on amnesty in January.
When Saakashvili failed to appear, protesters attacked members of the president’s United National Movement (UNM) party and Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, preventing them from entering the building.
“The president decided to give a televised address, and not to come to the library, to avoid civil unrest. He will give the address at 8 p.m. (4 p.m. GMT) local time from his residence,” Saakashvili's spokesperson Manana Mandzhgaladze told journalists on Friday.
She added that the protest “was organized by Georgia's Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and his supporters.” Mandzhgaladze said Saakashvili’s address in parliament was also blocked on Ivanishvili’s order.
Saakashvili’s parliamentary address was initially scheduled for February 8, but was postponed by the premier’s majority in parliament on Thursday till an undefined date.
In his televised address, Saakashvili expressed concern with the protests outside the National Library, saying: “No one will make me hole up either in this palace or in a bunker.”
He added that Friday's protests were not the path that would lead Georgia into Europe.
US Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland condemned the violence in Tbilisi on Friday and called on Georgia’s authorities to investigate the incident and punish all perpetrators.
Under the Georgian Constitution, which sets the presidential term at five years, Saakashvili’s presidency was due to expire five years after his inauguration, on January 20. However, the country’s next presidential election is slated for October 2013.
Opponents claim that the incumbent president artificially extended his term until October 2013 by proposing changes to the country’s legislation, passed by the former parliament while it was still dominated by his United National Movement (UNM) party.
Saakashvili-led UNM was defeated by the Georgian Dream opposition coalition, led by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, in the country's October 1 parliamentary elections last year.
Once appointed prime minister, Ivanishvili and his new cabinet launched a crackdown on former government officials, claiming that Saakashvili and his party had ruined the country over the nine years of their rule.