February 9, 2013 - 13:23 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Hundreds of protesters who accuse Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of flouting human rights and stifling dissent forced him to change the venue of his annual address to the nation on Friday, February 8, according to Reuters.
Political tensions have engulfed Georgia since Saakashvili's party lost parliamentary elections in October to a group led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Now prime minister, Ivanishvili is experiencing a difficult cohabitation with the president.
Scuffles broke out as protesters barred officials from Saakashvili's party entering Georgia's National Library, the venue for the speech that was due later in the day.
Protesters smashed windows and broke doors to the library and threw punches at Saakashvili allies, including the mayor of Tbilisi and a woman lawmaker who was left with a nose bleed.
Following the protest, Saakashvili made his annual address from his office and called for his opponents to abandon the rivalry he said risks undermining democracy and unity in the Caucasus nation.
Saakashvili is widely credited for clamping down on corruption and implementing liberal economic reforms during nine years of political dominance in Georgia, but his critics accuse him of concentrating too much power in his hands, human rights abuses and stifling dissent.
He was originally due to give the speech in front of the Georgian parliament, but its speaker, an Ivanishvili ally, said earlier this week the address should be put off, prompting the president to opt for the library instead.
Saakashvili, whose term expires in October and who is barred from seeking re-election, called on the government to focus on integrating Georgia with the West, obey democratic standards and fight crime.
Saakashvili stressed he had no plans to dismiss Ivanishvili's government, something he has the power to do under the present constitution though parliament is considering changing that in order to curb presidential prerogatives.