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Georgian opposition organizes 'defense units' to preserve order


TBILISI, April 16 (RIA Novosti) - Protest organizers in Tbilisi, who are demanding that President Mikheil Saakashvili step down, have established unarmed "defense units" to maintain order, a Conservative Party representative said Thursday.

"We were forced to set up defense units to preserve order on territory and around positions, where protests are taking place. Unknown masked people with batons are attacking opposition supporters, such incidents are happening not far from where protests are taking place; they are not directly approaching them," Bidzina Gudzhabidze said.

He said the units, which number around 100 people, are unarmed and their only goal is "to prevent violence," with the first group starting work late Wednesday.

"We will take away the weapons of those we detain, along with their documents to establish their identity. We cannot rule out that we won't take their clothes. Should someone come across any naked people in the city, they will know that they were sent by the authorities to deal with the opposition," he said. Georgia's opposition on Wednesday announced plans to begin round-the-clock protests at the State Chancellery building, where the offices of the prime minister and other state ministers are located, but rescheduled them because of Orthodox Easter, which this year is April 19.

"After Easter the final stage will begin," the opposition leader of Georgia's Conservative Party, Zviad Dzidziguri, was quoted by Novosti Georgia as saying during the protests. "The protest will begin with new force," he said.

The opposition is into its eighth day of demonstrations outside parliament, the presidential residence and state television headquarters.

Saakashvili's opponents blame him for dragging the country into a war with Russia over South Ossetia last August, resulting in the permanent split from Georgia of the province, along with another rebel republic, Abkhazia. He also faces criticism for failure to carry out democratic reforms promised after the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that brought him to power.

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