US hopes Georgia protest peaceful
The United States on Wednesday urged both sides in Georgia to avoid violence after the opposition called for major protests to oust President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Opposition leaders have vowed to attract more than 100,000 supporters to peaceful rallies starting Thursday to force out Saakashvili, a close US ally whose popularity was dented by Georgia's disastrous war with Russia last year.
"We urge the government of Georgia and all those participating in the April 9 protest rally to ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful and without violence," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
"Peaceful protests are an important part of any democracy and an integral and acceptable way to express political views," he said.
In Tbilisi, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told AFP that authorities would show "maximum tolerance" for the protesters.
He tried to ally fears that the protests would end in a repeat of events in November 2007 when riot police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters.