TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia will not succumb to Russian efforts to foment unrest, President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Tuesday as protesters took to the streets for a sixth day to demand his resignation.
Several thousand people rallied outside the parliament in Tbilisi, demanding Saakashvili, 41, resign over his record on democracy and last year’s disastrous war with Russia.
Dozens spent the night in tents outside his office.
The president, who has refused to quit, again appeared to suggest that Russian money was behind the campaign and said that Russia had been building up its forces in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
“All that was aimed at domestic unrest and, as the events of these past days show us, no matter how much money is spent and what they might do, Georgia is a stable country,” he said during a visit to a health clinic.
“It’s impossible to cause any serious disturbances here.”
Opposition leaders say the allegations are part of a smear campaign against them, and reflect the government’s indifference to the protesters’ grievances.
Turnout has dropped steadily since 60,000 demonstrated on the first day.
But opposition leaders deny the campaign is running out of steam, and announced on Tuesday they would also set up tents outside the state broadcaster to underscore complaints over media freedom.
“This is a protest of not just the people gathered on Rustaveli Avenue but of the whole of Georgia,” said opposition New Rights leader David Gamkrelidze. “Today we are opening a new hotspot in our city,” he said.
The opposition promises to keep rallying and blocking streets until Saakashvili steps down, but analysts question the unity of the more than a dozen opposition leaders involved or their ability to draw enough people to force the president out.
Critics accuse Saakashvili of monopolizing power since becoming president after the 2003 “Rose Revolution.” They say he has an authoritarian streak that has stifled the judiciary and media.
The five-day war with Russia in August last year, when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia, emboldened critics who say Saakashvili — perceived as brash and impulsive — has made too many mistakes to remain in power until 2013.
But analysts say his ruling United National Movement retains wide support and his position appears strong, despite the defection of some top allies and several cabinet reshuffles.
Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Richard Williams