Thousands demonstrate against the government in Georgia –

Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Sunday (April 9) as the government of the Black Sea state faced mounting allegations of backsliding on democracy.

Protesters gathered outside Georgia’s parliament for a rally organized by the country’s main opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM), founded by imprisoned ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili.

The protesters waved flags of Georgia, Ukraine and the European Union and held up a huge banner that read “For the future of Europe”.

The crowd chanted “Long live Misha!”, referring by its diminutive form to Saakashvili, who is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power – a conviction international human rights groups have condemned as politically motivated.

Doctors said the pro-Western reformer was in mortal danger due to a series of serious illnesses he suffered in detention.

The government of the ruling Georgian Dream party has been accused of jailing opponents, silencing independent media, colluding with the Kremlin and stalling the country on its path to EU membership.

At the rally, UNM leader Levan Khabeishvili cited the protesters’ demands, which included the EU demanding “release of political prisoners and implementation of reforms” as a condition for granting Tbilisi formal candidate status.

“Peaceful but uncompromising”

“(The) Georgian government is controlled from Moscow and our duty is to save our homeland from Russian henchmen,” former Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili told the crowd.

“We are freedom-loving people, part of the European family, we reject Russian slavery.”

One of the protesters, 27-year-old painter Luka Kavsadze, told AFP: “Our struggle will be peaceful but uncompromising and will take us to where we belong – the European Union.”

Tens of thousands took to the streets in Tbilisi last month after parliament initially approved a bill “on foreign agents,” similar to the law used in Russia to suppress dissent.

The bill, which drew strong criticism from the European Union and the United States, was dropped amid pressure from street protests, during which police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds.

The ruling party insists it remains loyal to Georgia’s constitutional aspirations to join the EU and NATO, with 80 percent of the population’s support, according to opinion polls.

But party leaders have stepped up their anti-Western rhetoric after Washington last week banned visas from four powerful Georgia judges over alleged corruption.

The move marked Washington’s latest tightening of the crackdown on an ally amid concerns over Tbilisi’s alignment with Russia.

Georgia applied for EU membership along with Ukraine and Moldova just days after Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbor in February 2022.

Last June, EU leaders granted Kiev and Chisinau formal candidate status but said Tbilisi needed to implement reforms first.

Read more with EURACTIV