Saturday, November 22
Parliament Takeover Prompts Georgia Crisis
The Associated Press, November 22, 2003

TBILISI, Georgia Nov. 22 — The opposition seized Georgia's parliament Saturday, chasing out President Eduard Shevardnadze and declaring an interim government as tens of thousands of supporters thronged the streets of the capital. Shevardnadze, backed by his head of police, declared a state of emergency.

Facing a possible confrontation with the army and security forces, the opposition appealed to its supporters in the streets to defend the parliament building.

Opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze, the speaker of the outgoing parliament, proclaimed herself acting president until early elections that the opposition called to take place in 45 days. She warned Shevardnadze's government to avoid bloodshed.

"The fate of our country is being decided now," said protest leader Mikhail Saakashvili. "We give guarantees to Shevardnadze that he will not be harmed, but let him know that if there is at least one shot fired at people, he will face justice."

The parliament takeover was an exuberant moment for protesters who for days have been demanding the president's removal over elections that the opposition says were rigged. Just as Shevardnadze began speaking in parliament, Saakashvili and hundreds of supporters swarmed through the chamber doors, pushing and shoving lawmakers.

Pro-government lawmakers were thrown out of parliament and Shevardnadze was hustled out of the chamber by bodyguards. "I will not resign," he vowed outside the building as he boarded a vehicle and was driven off, escorted by troops in riot gear.

He later went on national television, surrounded by uniformed officers of the internal security forces and declaring a 30-day state of emergency. "Order will be restored and the criminals will be punished," he vowed.

While the interior minister who is in charge of police vowed loyalty, the military did not make clear its stance. [...more]
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