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Protesters force Georgian president to change annual address venue

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 8 Feb 2013 16:16 GMT
Author: Reuters
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TBILISI, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters who accuse Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of flouting human rights and stifling dissent forced him to change the venue of his annual address to the nation on Friday.

Scuffles broke out as protesters barred officials from Saakashvili's party entering Georgia's National Library, the venue for the speech which was due to be broadcast on television later in the day.

The president's spokeswoman said he would now make the address from his office.

The incident underlined tensions in the country after the long-ruling president's National Movement party was defeated in parliamentary elections last year. His opponent, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, became prime minister, forcing a difficult cohabitation between them.

Saakashvili's presidential term expires in October and he is barred from seeking re-election.

The president was originally due to give his speech in parliament, now dominated by his political opponents led by Ivanishvili.

But parliament's speaker, an Ivanishvili ally, said earlier this week the address should be postponed, prompting Saakashvili to decide to speak at the library instead.

Saakashvili's acceptance last year of his party going into opposition to Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition marked the country's first peaceful transfer of power between rival parties in Georgia since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. (Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Pravin Char)

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