TBILISI, Georgia – More than 10,000 people on Saturday swarmed on to the streets of the Georgian capital to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili, but dwindling numbers of supporters suggest the opposition effort is running out of steam.
Midweek violent clashes between police and protesters that injured dozens failed to galvanize a population that is becoming fatigued by the daily disruptions to public and political life and travel around the city.
When the peaceful protests first began on April 9, tens of thousands took to the streets. Since then, opposition rallies have taken place daily, with ever smaller numbers attending.
Some protesters have dug in, erecting makeshift "cells" near some of the city's main landmarks -- the parliament, Saakashvili's residence and outside the offices of the public television station.
According to Georgia's Interior Ministry, Saturday's rally attracted up to 12,000.
Critics say the opposition has no plan for change and has proved too inflexible in its demands -- the call for Saakashvili's immediate resignation.
Saakashvili, whose second term ends in 2013 and who still has a strong base of support, has refused to resign.
"The opposition resources are running out," said Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. "The government is fed up with everything, the people are fed up with everything."
"They need blood to get new impetus. That will only happen if the police make a terrible mistake or the opposition becomes more radical," he added.
Authorities and opposition met for talks late Friday for the first time since the start of monthlong protests.
Both sides agreed to the talks after a clash between police and protesters injured dozens Wednesday and threatened to plunge the country into violence. But the negotiations ended without an agreement on a meeting with Saakashvili, ensuring the standoff will persist.
The government has said the meeting will take time to prepare, and should be productive.
Opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze, former parliament speaker and one-time ally of the president, said the protests will continue, gathering in strength, until Saakashvili steps down.
"Only the president's resignation can end this country's crisis," Burdzhanadze told the rally. "We mustn't take a single step back."
But some suggest the opposition has little choice but to step down from their current demands as public support is waning.
"Around 30-40 percent of Georgians are not very happy with their position and would support the opposition," said Soso Tsintsadze, dean of Georgia's Diplomatic Academy. "But divisions within the opposition, the lack of a single leader and a clear program means they can't mobilize these disaffected people to fight."
Georgians rallied behind Saakashvili during the war with Russia last August, but his popularity has plummeted in recent months.
Many Georgians hold him responsible for dragging the nation into the war, and also accuse him of trying to silence critics and control the media.
"Saakashvili needs to be made to resign at any price," said Tamazi Khukhuni, an unemployed man from the coastal town of Batumi who has taken up temporary residency in cell No 323 on Tbilisi's Freedom Square.
"He hasn't fulfilled his main promise - he hasn't reduced unemployment. He's created a police state where there are no independent courts, and where they try to control journalists."
The opposition, a disparate group of leaders many of whom are former allies of Saakashvili, successfully tapped into public discontent initially, but quickly appeared to lose mainstream support.
Many have tired of the opposition's antics, which include staged political theater mocking Saakashvili. One opposition figure also starred in a reality TV show where he interviewed opposition figures from a mock jail cell.
"The way I see it, Saakashvili has done a lot for this country, and his resignation won't bring anything good to Georgia," said Maya Jikia, a 39-year-old actress. "I will not support an opposition that has turned Georgia into a theater of the absurd."