Georgia holds first military parade since war with 'Russian empire'

President Saakashvili oversaw Georgia's first military parade since the 2008 war with Russia.

Georgia holds first military parade since war with 'Russian empire'

President Mikheil Saakashvili on Wednesday oversaw Georgia's first military parade since the 2008 war with Russia and urged the army to stand firm against what he called a continuing threat from "outside forces".

Saakashvili's anti-Russian rhetoric is part of a bid to restore his popularity, badly damaged by the five-day war when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on rebel South Ossetia.

Opposition groups, some of which want closer cooperation with Soviet-era overlord Russia, protested but agreed not to block the parade as they did last year.

"Empire is threatening our independence again today," Saakashvili said, addressing more than 4,000 servicemen in new military uniforms and carrying M4 guns. "There are forces plotting who are not halting their attempts to defeat us in our fight for independence.

"We categorically refuse to be governed by forces from outside," he said.

Dozens of new armoured personnel carriers, military Land Rovers and other military hardware drove down Rustaveli Avenue in front of the parliament building, while several military jets and helicopters flew overhead.

Later, in the centre of the capital, Saakashvili opened a 31-meter-high (100-foot) memorial to Georgian soldiers killed since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"All of us should be ready to defend our country and we will win through peace and through our success...Our small nation has become a symbol of success and resistance," Saakashvili said.

Critics, who accuse the 42-year-old Saakashvili of monopolising power, marginalising the opposition and manipulating the media, wanted to hold a protest rally at the same place, but agreed to gather in another part of the capital to avoid stoking tensions.

Georgia did not hold a military parade last year as Rustaveli Avenue was blocked by opposition activists, who were demanding Saakashvili's resignation.

Some in the Georgian opposition say ties with Russia should be restored, in the hope of renewing regular direct flights and lifting a Russian embargo on Georgia's main exports, wine and mineral water.

Polls suggest most Georgians favour renewed air and trade links, but they oppose opposition talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has held exploratory meetings with some opposition leaders including former Saakashvili ally Nino Burjanadze.

Tension is high before local and mayoral elections in Georgia on May 30. Saakashvili's opponents hope the polls will dent the support still enjoyed by his United National Movement despite the 2008 war and a 3.9 percent contraction of the Georgian economy last year.

But dogged by differences and without a coherent platform, the opposition appears to be making little headway.

Reuters

Last Mod: 26 Mayıs 2010, 18:10
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