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Lawmakers in Georgia approve emergency decree despite protests

November 10, 2007|From Reuters

TBILISI, GEORGIA — Georgia's parliament on Friday endorsed President Mikheil Saakashvili's state of emergency decree in defiance of local opponents and Western allies, and accused an opposition tycoon of plotting a coup.

Soldiers kept a lower profile in central Tbilisi after cordoning off the main avenue 24 hours earlier, raising expectations that the emergency laws that put a ban on independent media and big meetings would be lifted.

With the opposition boycotting, parliament voted 149-0 to back the 15-day emergency decree Saakashvili imposed Wednesday after police fired plastic bullets and used water cannons and tear gas against peaceful anti-government protesters.

Despite harsh criticism from Western allies, Saakashvili and his supporters justified the decree by accusing Russian agents of destabilizing the country.

"The threat that existed until now is still present despite the calm that has been restored," Nino Burjanadze, the speaker of parliament, said at the start of the vote.

The State Department said it was sending an envoy to Georgia to underscore Washington's opposition to the emergency. Matthew Bryza, an assistant secretary of State for European affairs, will meet Saakashvili and other officials over the weekend.

The state of emergency "is not in Georgia's interests, not in the Georgian people's interests," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The prosecutor-general accused billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, the opposition's chief financier, of being part of a coup plot and said Georgia would seek to bring the tycoon in "to question him as a suspect."

Patarkatsishvili had issued a strong statement from London criticizing Saakashvili, saying the leader aimed to gag the opposition before an early presidential election in January.

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