WASHINGTON – Despite dramatic scenes of mass anti-government protests in Georgia — thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets calling for President Mikheil Saakashvili’s resignation – the reaction by State Department and Georgian officials in Washington is one of encouragement by the display of a fledgling democratic process at work rather than concern at apparent government instability.
State Department Spokesman Richard Aker told reporters Friday that the U.S. had no stance on whether Saakashvili, (whom the U.S. vigorously supported during the conflict with Russia last July over breakaway provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia) should step down. Aker said any question of political leadership was an “internal Georgian matter” and stated that the U.S. supports the right to peaceful public protest.
Georgia’s ambassador in Washington, Batu Kutelia, told FoxNews that the protests were an encouraging example of a flourishing diplomatic process.
“This is one step forward, this is positive. It shows the policy of transparency is working,“ he said.
Aker noted that the protests had been remarkably peaceful, and Kutelia described the scenes as merely “demonstrators expressing their views and opinions," saying that the crowds should demonstrate for as long as they felt necessary.
He said concerns were being publicly raised about economic and social problems but that "President Saakashvili has offered to engage in dialogue with opposition leaders on the issues."
The coalition of opposition parties accuse Saakashvili of betraying the promises of reform he made during his own demonstrations during the 2003 "Rose Revolution," which ousted then President Eduard Shevardnadze. Saakashvili won elections in 2008 that should have assured him of another five-year term.
Many of Georgia’s economic woes and the government’s current unpopularity stem from Saakashvili’s disastrous preemptive strike against Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008. The conflict also severely strained U.S.- Russian relations when the U.S. backed Georgia’s actions and chastised Russian leadership.
"It is not 1968,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the time, likening Russia’s military offensive to a soviet-era crackdown.
“There is a risk of low-level violence between protesters and law enforcement, and the protests may continue for several days," Eurasia Group analyst Ana Jelenkovic predicted on the scale of this week’s protests. "However the protests are unlikely to be enough to push the government to call snap elections or to threaten Saakashvili 's position.”
No high level calls have taken place between U.S. and Georgian officials. The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi remains open and has not issued a warden message cautioning American citizens in Georgia. Foreign minister Grigol Vashadze will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C. on April 14 as part of a pre-arranged visit.