Tens of thousands of people protested in Georgia Sunday against last week’s run-off presidential election, which they believe were rigged.
Backed by the ruling party, Salome Zurabishvili was elected Georgia’s first female president by 59 percent of the vote. But opposition leaders and protesters allege vote-buying, voter intimidation, and other irregularities as they packed the streets of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
Zurabishvili’s opponent Grigol Vashadze addressed the crowd in Tbilisi, calling the election a “criminal farce” and saying that the opposition “demands an early parliamentary election to be held in Georgia.”
Vashadze is backed by allies of former president Mikhail Saakashvili, who is currently in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam.
Saakashvili addressed the crowd via video link Sunday, met by cheers and chanting of his name.
“Georgia’s future is being born on this square today,” he said.
The president’s role in Georgia is largely ceremonial, but the results of the election may be a good indicator of which parties will maintain or seize power in the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Zurabishvili, 66, ran as an independent even though she has the backing of Georgian Dream, headed by former prime minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
She has been criticized over her background and been branded a traitor by some detractors over comments they interpreted as suggesting that Georgia started the 2008 war with Russia.
Zurabishvili was born in France and served as a French diplomat before beginning her political career in Georgia.