(Reuters) - Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili declared a state of emergency in the capital Tbilisi on Wednesday after police and protesters fought in the streets and the prime minister said there had been an attempt at a coup.
Saakashvili says he has achieved considerable successes in nearly four years in office. Opponents say his rule is a failure. Here are the main arguments for and against:
* FOR: Last year the World Bank named Georgia as the top reformer in the world. Gross domestic product grew by 9.6 percent in 2006 and officials forecast 2007 growth of 14.5 percent. The government has boosted tax revenues and private investment is up. Per capita income has risen from $700 a year in 2003 to $1,500 now.
* AGAINST: Many people complain their living standards are not improving fast enough. A crackdown on the black market in cigarettes and alcohol left thousands of street vendors without jobs. Growing incomes are offset by rising inflation and the fact that, since the reforms, many Georgians are having to pay tax and utility bills in full. There is unhappiness that the government is dramatically increasing the defense budget instead of raising pensions. The opposition alleges corruption in Saakashvili’s own team.
*FOR: President George W. Bush called Georgia under Saakashvili a “beacon of democracy”. The Georgian president says he wants to take his country into NATO and the European Union. Unlike many of its neighbors, Georgia has a lively opposition and vocal media.
*AGAINST: Saakashvili’s opponents say he uses selective application of the law to sideline political opponents. They point to criminal charges brought against ex-defense minister Irakly Okruashvili, days after he said he was setting up an opposition party. Critics say Saakashvili’s style is authoritarian and he bulldozes individuals’ rights. There was anger in Tbilisi when, as part of a plan to spruce up the scruffy capital, many people were evicted from their homes.
*FOR: Georgians believe their big neighbor has for years been humiliating them by propping up separatists in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Saakashvili has promised to restore central control in the regions and uses uncompromising rhetoric when talking about Russia. Many Georgians say they back his position.
*AGAINST: An embargo imposed by Moscow after Tbilisi briefly arrested four Russian soldiers on spying charges has hit many peoples’ wallets. Direct flights to Moscow have been stopped, it is nearly impossible for Georgians to receive Russian visas and Russia has banned imports of Georgian wine, a key earner.
Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Andrew Dobbie