March 13, 2009 / 8:44 PM / 10 years ago

Georgian protesters demand Saakashvili resign

Georgy Gachechiladze, one of Georgia's best known celebrities, sings as he stands in the improvised prison cell during a concert and protest rally in Tbilisi March 13, 2009. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

TBILISI (Reuters) - About 7,000 Georgians rallied in the capital Friday to demand the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The demonstration was a warm-up for a day of protest on April 9 planned by opposition groups who blame Saakashvili for the disastrous war with Russia last August and for failing to insulate Georgia against the deepening economic crisis.

One of Georgia’s best known singers, Georgy Gachechiladze, performed protest songs he said he had last sung under Eduard Shevardnadze, who was brought down by the 2003 “Rose Revolution” that brought Saakashvili to power.

“These songs I sang when Shevardnadze ruled Georgia. I would never have believed these songs could be sung today,” said Gachechiladze, singing from a mocked-up prison cell on stage.

The brother of an opposition leader who ran against Saakashvili in the 2008 elections, he has vowed he will not leave his cell until Saakashvili leaves office.

Many wore carnival masks and took photographs as they marched from the concert to the Georgian parliament.

“Misha (Saakashvili) must leave because unemployment is rising and the economic situation is getting worse,” said Tamta Kotrikadze, a 52-year-old unemployed woman.

Opposition groups say Saakashvili made a serious mistake when he launched an assault on the breakaway region of South Ossetia last year.

Russia responded with a counter-offensive of tanks and troops which quickly drove Georgian forces back. It then recognized South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

Reporting by Niko Mchedlishvili; writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Andrew Roche

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