TBILISI, Georgia – Thousands of Georgians reveled peacefully in the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze (search) on Sunday, marking what many in the capital called a "holiday of freedom" by launching fireworks and champagne corks into the air.
There was no visible police presence monitoring the celebration and the people who poured onto the main Rustaveli avenue in Tbilisi (search). Residents honked car horns, waved flags, whistled and slapped high-fives during the impromptu festivities that went on late into the night.
"It's a great day in the history of Georgia (search)," said medical student Georgy Gosishvili, 21, waving in a wide figure-eight the white flag with red stripes and crosses that is the symbol of the opposition. "Communists can't rule Georgia anymore."
Irma Merabishvili and her two sons, 13-year-old Lasha and 12-year-old Georgy, handed flowers to protesters bouncing on top of military vehicles, which revved their engines but never moved against the crowds. When asked what the 34-year-old teacher was feeling, she was so overcome she could only utter one word: "Freedom."
"After Shevardnadze, everything will be peaceful," said her husband, Gela, 41, a shoemaker.
The demonstrators themselves maintained order and kept people from flooding the streets as a steady procession of official vehicles drove by, including the motorcade of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who helped negotiate an agreement for Shevardnadze's departure with opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili.
But the crowd's enthusiasm was too much to restrain when Saakashvili himself drove out in an armored black sport-utility vehicle. Demonstrators flooded toward the car and chanted his nickname, "Misha!"
"Today is a big holiday for the Georgian people. (Shevardnadze's) leaving peacefully," said Georgy Prengishvili, a 64-year-old icon painter wearing the traditional Caucasus folk costume, a flared black tunic and fuzzy cap with a dagger on his belt. Standing near the president's residency, he said he had come to Tbilisi from his home in western Georgia a week ago to join the crowds.
"He didn't do anything for the people," Prengishvili said of Shevardnadze. "He only paid attention to those from his own clan."
Later, a young woman enthusiastically embraced two of military officers who never moved to restrain the crowd. A unit of about 100 soldiers wearing green camouflage also marched toward the residency in support of the demonstrators.
After Shevardnadze's evening resignation, a barrage of fireworks lit up the crowd on the grounds outside parliament -- ground zero for the populist uprising.
On Saturday, opposition demonstrators stormed into parliament forcing Shevardnadze to flee the building during a speech -- the decisive move leading to his resignation after weeks of protests following Nov. 2 parliamentary elections that were widely condemned as flawed.
Crowds flooded to the center of Tbilisi, packing the streets and climbing onto cars trying to navigate through the masses.
"There was no blood, no killing, everything was peaceful," said Nona Ushuilidze, a 60-year-old university teacher who was among a calmer group of women watching the spectacle. "People love each other, they're meeting strangers and all wishing each other luck."