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Russia behind riots, claims president
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09:27, November 08, 2007

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Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili yesterday accused Russia of staging opposition protests in Georgia and said that several Russian diplomats would be expelled.

"Russian special services have stepped up their activities in Georgia," Saakashvili said in a televized address to the nation several hours after riot police using truncheons, water cannons and tear gas dispersed protesters calling for his resignation.

Saakashvili said he regretted the use of force, but argued that it was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos. He said the opposition leaders had been guided by Russia.

"A country which has a lot of money and expertise has engaged a machine of lies and a mechanism of provocations," he said, referring to Russia.

Saakashvili said that several Russian diplomats had been asked to leave Georgia because they were involved in espionage activities.

Shortly before his statement, Georgian television stations aired what they said was a taped conversation between opposition leaders and Russian Embassy officials. The opposition has dismissed it as a fabrication.

Georgian riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon yesterday to break up the six-day-old rally by protesters demanding the resignation of President Saakashvili.

The health minister said 250 people were taken to hospital after police used force for the first time since the protest began last Friday with a 70,000-strong rally, the biggest since a peaceful revolution swept Saakashvili to power in 2003.

Police wearing gas masks and carrying shields charged about 3,000 protesters who had gathered outside parliament in eth capital Tbilisi and chased them away, hitting some with batons.

The six days of protests have posed the largest challenge to Saakashvili since he came to power and he has not been seen in public since they started.

The protesters accuse Saakashvili of economic mismanagement and corruption and want early elections in the former Soviet republic at the heart of the Caucasus region, a volatile area south of Russia. Saakashvili has ignored their demands.

Source: Xinhua/Agencies

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