TBILISI Hundreds of Georgians gathered on Sunday outside the presidential administration building in the capital Tbilisi demanding the removal of President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose term in office they say should be ending.
Participants of the rally said the president's second term should expire on January 21, five years from his inauguration. The constitution limits the presidential term to five years but does not call for elections until October this year.
Saakashvili's National Movement party was defeated in parliamentary elections in October. His opponent, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, became prime minister, forcing a difficult cohabitation between them.
The protesters waved anti-Saakashvili signs and caricatures of the Georgian leader. Some threatened to block access to the presidential palace and put up tents until he leaves power.
"He is not the president of Georgia any more ... This Satan has nothing to do in this building anymore," Gocha Gurgenidze, a participant of the rally, said.
Several groups in Georgia have begun collecting signatures urging Saakashvili to step down. Since the parliamentary election, numerous former government officials have been arrested, accused of abuse of power and other crimes.
The West has warned Ivanishvili, a political novice, not to lead a witch-hunt of officials loyal to Saakashvili, who in turn is criticised by opponents for monopolizing power, mistreating critics and trampling on human rights.
Saakishvili is Georgia's third president in the 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union. The first two, Zurab Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze, were both toppled, one in a civil war and the other in a popular revolt.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze and Nino Ivanishvili; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Peter Graff)