TBILISI (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Georgians marched on Saturday in one of the biggest anti-government rallies of recent years, blaming the authorities for economic crisis and worsening crime.
The former Soviet republic has been battered by a plunge in the Russian rouble and the conflict in Ukraine. Lower exports and remittances are also contributing to a rising current account deficit.
A fall of nearly 30 percent in Georgia’s lari currency over the past year has hurt many, especially those with dollar loans.
Protesters, led by activists and leaders of the opposition United National Movement (UNM), marched down Tbilisi’s main avenue waving the national flag as well as the European Union flag and holding posters that read “Resign”.
Many chanted “Long live Georgia”.
“We are watching how they destroy our country for almost three years ... It’s our obligation to stop this process,” Giga Bokeria, one of the UNM leaders, told the crowd at the capital Tbilisi’s central Freedom square.
Many protesters said they wanted the government, initially formed under the premiership of tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, to resign.
“We want this government to leave peacefully and then we will find the way out. It’s a horrible government,” Darejan Sanaia, a pensioner from Tbilisi, said.
The opposition also accuses the government of using the justice system to settle political scores with the former government of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Dozens of former officials, including the prime minister, defense and interior ministers, have been arrested on charges including abuse of power and corruption since Saakashvili’s party lost an election in October 2012.
Saakashvili, who has been charged with exceeding his authority during his years in office, addressed the crowd from Brussels.
“Georgia had been paused two years ago ... Georgia is heading to the abyss and everyone feels it,” Saakashvili said via live broadcast on the huge screen in front of the crowd.
Saakashvili left the South Caucasus country of 4.5 million after his second presidency in November 2013.
The present government says it is continuing Saakashvil’s pro-Western course but also wants better relations with Georgia’s giant neighbor, Russia.
Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Stephen Powell