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Georgian Police Raid Opposition Tent Camp

June 25, 2009

Georgian Police Arrest Activists, Raid Opposition Tent Camp Outside Presidential Residence

(AP)  Masked Georgian police ransacked an opposition tent camp outside the presidential residence Friday and arrested six activists, witnesses and opposition leaders said.

The demonstration had been part of a broader protest movement lasting more than two months and aimed at forcing President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign.

Several dozen opposition supporters had been camped outside his Tbilisi home in small tents and metal cages meant to symbolize prison cells. People who live nearby had complained that the demonstrators were blocking some narrow streets.

Before dawn Friday, masked police turned the tents upside down and threw mattresses onto the street, opposition leaders and witnesses said

Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said police had moved in to prevent a clash with residents from getting out of control. Six activists were arrested on minor charges, he said.

In recent days, police have removed the opposition's mock prison cells from other sites in Tbilisi.

Opposition leaders say the government became more aggressive with the demonstrators after U.S. and other Western diplomats criticized protesters who threw eggs at the parliament speaker's car this month.

"There were no such incidents earlier," opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze said on Maestro TV. "So why in the past three days has there been one after another? ... these small victories of Saakashvili will put him in a more difficult situation."

Opposition leaders vowed to continue their near daily protests. They accuse Saakashvili of becoming authoritarian and blame him for last year's war with Russia, which routed the Georgia military and resulted in Russian troops occupying two breakaway regions.

Meanwhile, a top Georgian intelligence official accused Russia of trying to destabilize Georgia by using ethnic Georgians living outside the country.

"They're using criminal leaders, their finances, their money, using certain individuals who have fled Georgia, founding Georgia civil society groups, conducting and planning conferences," Gela Bezhuashvili, chief of Georgia foreign intelligence agency, told lawmakers. "The purpose ... is to overthrow Georgia's legal authorities."

The Kremlin has made no secret of its loathing of Saakashvili and has openly hoped for his ouster.

Georgian opposition leaders have denied receiving funding from Russia.

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