| Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze being escorted out of parliament by his bodyguards in Tbilisi. (AFP)
Tbilisi, Nov. 22 (Reuters): Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze declared a state of emergency today after Opposition protesters proclaiming a “bloodless revolution” stormed parliament, forcing the veteran leader to flee.
In scenes reminiscent of the “people power” protests in eastern Europe in the 1990s, tens of thousands of Georgians demanding Shevardnadze quit power took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi while troops stood aside. As the impoverished country plunged deeper into crisis, the main Opposition leader said Shevardnadze could stay in office temporarily if it was only to usher in early presidential polls.
“We won’t accept anything short of (early presidential elections). If he announces for himself some transitional period for new presidential elections, that’s fine. If he wants to call (them), we can still negotiate on that,” Mikhail Saakashvili said.
Opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze declared that she was taking on the functions of the President until the crisis was resolved. Shevardnadze, 75, fled to his home on the outskirts of the city, where he was protected by bodyguards and special forces.
“This is an attempt at a coup d’etat and an attempt to overthrow the President,” he said in his garden. “I cannot do it any other way now. I’m declaring a state of emergency. This is a special order and the defence ministry as well as the interior ministry will be involved in it. And we will restore order.”
Shevardnadze, 75, was speaking after being forced to flee parliament when it was taken over by scores of Opposition supporters shouting and waving flags.
He had been addressing the inaugural session of parliament elected in a November 2 poll denounced by the Opposition as rigged. “This is a parliament. We are not in the street. Let all Georgia see what is happening,” Shevardnadze said amid chaotic scenes before his bodyguards hustled him away. Fistfights broke out for a time between his supporters and Opposition.
Opposition leaders claim the election results were a fraud and accuse Shevardnadze of dragging Georgia into ruin through years of misrule.
“We want to conduct a peaceful change of power. No police stopped us, we did not use violence. We had our hands in the air to show we did not have arms,” Saakashvili said.
Western powers and Russia had been urging calm in the Caucasus state of five million. Any trouble could threaten a planned oil pipeline through Georgia from neighbouring Azerbaijan to Turkey. Washington has called for an independent investigation into what it said was massive fraud at the elections.
Officials confirmed the victory of two blocs loyal to Shevardnadze, prompting warnings from Georgia’s security council secretary that more protests could plunge the country into worse chaos than the civil war in the early 1990s.