TBILISI, Georgia – Opposition supporters blared their horns in a din of protest outside Georgia's parliament on Monday, but President Eduard Shevardnadze (search) held firm in his refusal to meet their demands as the country's political crisis entered its third week.
The 20-minute sonic assault was in response to opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili's (search) call for nonviolent civil disobedience to demands that Shevardnadze resign and that allegedly fraudulent parliamentary election results be nullified.
The horn-blowing was timed to coincide with Shevardnadze's traditional Monday radio interview. But in the broadcast and a subsequent briefing, the president flatly rejected demands to step down, saying the country's presidential election will take place in April 2005, in keeping with the constitution.
"The Georgian people, not some group, will decide who will become president," he said. "No one will get the president's post by using force and staging rallies."
Although Shevardnadze has frequently called for compromise as thousands of protesters have gathered outside parliament almost daily, he has given no indication what issues he might be willing to discuss.
Georgia has been seized by tension since the Nov. 2 parliamentary vote, which opposition leaders, international observers and the United States have criticized as fraudulent. Authorities have not yet announced official results, but the party supporting Shevardnadze is in the lead, followed by an allied movement.
That movement, Revival, planned a large march Tuesday through the city, a move likely to raise tensions.
Shevardnadze said that after election results are released, "the parliament will meet and elect its leadership, heads of committees, and then I will speak to parliament and offer my views on solving this problem."
But Shevardnadze's plan seemed sure to further anger the opposition with his insistence that results of the Nov. 2 elections are valid.
About 300 demonstrators clustered outside parliament Monday, whistling and applauding as drivers laid on their horns. The crowd was predominantly middle-aged and elderly, the people hardest hit by Georgia's economic deterioration under Shevardnadze.
Shevardnadze, the one-time reformist Soviet foreign minister, has presided over Georgia for most of its independence after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but failed to stop the country of 4.4 million from tumbling into a morass of poverty, corruption and crime.
"I get a pension of 14 lari ($7) a month; it's absurd," said Eteri Kheladze, a 70-year-old woman standing at the curb, blowing a whistle and pumping a fist to encourage drivers to add to the noise.
"We're tired of his promises and lies, tired of being fooled," declared 60-year-old Miligogi Chaviashvili, wearing only a worn flannel shirt against the early winter chill.
Some brandished placards showing portraits of Zviad Gamsakhurdia (search), Georgia's first president, who was driven out in a 1992 uprising, after which Shevardnadze became president.
Both sides have insisted they won't let the tensions spill over into bloodshed, but with neither faction giving way, both appeared to be grappling for strategies on how to strengthen their positions.
U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles discussed the crisis with Shevardnadze on Monday, noting the prospect of violence is a concern.
"Georgia's history is a bit sanguine, in the bloody sense," he said.