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The Georgian opposition has begun preparations for hunger strikes
The Georgian opposition has begun preparations for hunger strikes due to start simultaneously across the former Soviet republic, including the capital, Tbilisi, on Friday.

"We have started preparations for the hunger strikes scheduled for February 22," said the leader of People's Party, Koba Davitashvili.

The opposition is demanding electoral reforms, press freedom and the release of more than 40 'political prisoners' ahead of parliamentary polls in May.

The opposition leaders also called on their supporters to raise money for rallies set to accompany the hunger-strikes.

"We need not only participants, but also financial assistance," Davitashvili said.

Last Friday, tens of thousands of opposition supporters blocked traffic on Rustaveli Avenue, the site of mass anti-government protests last November which led to early presidential polls in the South Caucasus state in January. No clashes were reported.

Protesters have also demanded a recount of the results of the January 5 polls which returned President Mikheil Saakashvili to office.

Western monitors said Georgia's elections were generally fair, although they admitted there had been a number of violations.

The U.S.-educated Saakashvili has moved to integrate the country into the European Union and NATO since he came to power in 2004, but has been recently criticized for authoritarianism, corruption and economic failures.

His brutal crackdown on protesters in early November triggered public anger and criticism from Georgia's Western allies.


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