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State of emergency in Georgia

Opposition stormed the Parliament chambers in protest.
Opposition storm the parliament chambers in protest.

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Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze declares a state of emergency as protesters, who believe he stole the election, take over parliament. (November 22)
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Georgian opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze talks with CNN's Ryan Chilcote after she and her fellow protesters took over parliament. (November 22)
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TBILISI, Georgia (CNN) -- Georgian demonstrators are maintaining an all night vigil outside the nation's parliament after a state of emergency was declared by President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Tens of thousands of Georgians are demanding Shevardnadze's resignation and parliamentary speaker and leading opposition figure Nino Burdzhanadze appeared on television to declare herself an interim leader.

Shevardnadze, who is believed to be at his country home after initially being escorted to the Ministry of Defense, issued a statement denouncing the coup which happened as he addressed the convening of parliament. He has vowed to fight protesters and gave them 48 hours to clear the parliament.

At 9.30 p.m. (1730 GMT) four armored personnel carriers, more than 10 buses and mini-buses with soldiers took up positions outside Georgia's Interior Ministry, Reuters reporters said.

Shevardnadze announced the state of emergency on national TV, saying he had no other choice but to declare it and would use the Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry to restore order.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, meanwhile, has arrived in Georgia on a mission to resolve the standoff.

Speaking to reporters after landing in the former Soviet state well after midnight, Ivanov said Russia had no intention of interfering in Georgia's internal affairs, Reuters reports.

"At the same we cannot remain indifferent to the fate of Georgia," he told reporters.

"It is critically important for us that everything proceeds according to the constitution and the law," he said.

"There are no issues that cannot be resolved through dialogue and compromise on the basis of existing legislation and the constitution," Reuters quotes Ivanov saying.

Ivanov was immediately driven off to Shevardnadze's residence outside Tbilisi.

Russia and 11 other ex-Soviet states in the Commonwealth of Independent States denounced as "unacceptable" the opposition moves to seize power from Shevardnadze and called on all sides to use legal means to settle differences.

Washington's State Department has called for calm in "reaching a compromise solution acceptable to all and in the interest of Georgia."

Mikhail Saakashvili, leader of the National Movement which accuses the government of having rigged the November 2 elections, told CNN Georgia needs "new energy, new leadership."

He said his party is prepared for Shevardnadze to remain in transitional power until early elections are held -- but are not prepared to enter a dialogue on keeping the status quo. He described Saturday's events as a "velvet revolution" and said it was not the opposition's intention to harm Shevardnadze.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote, who is at the scene, said it appears the thousands of protesters have no intention of leaving the Freedom Square, outside the parliament.

CNN's Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty added the "situation is fraught with possible violence."

If Shevardnadze did resign, Burdzhanadze would become acting president for a short time before new elections, according to Georgian law.

"As parliamentary speaker and under the constitution, I assume powers as head of state until the new presidential election," Burdzhanadze told reporters.

She urged all government bodies "to continue their normal work routine."

Burdzhanadze said the opposition had a "minimum" support of between 70 percent and 80 percent of the population, and defended the constitutional legitimacy of the protesters' actions.

"The constitution was broken with the (flawed) election," she said.

Shevardnadze has in the past put the figure at 20 percent.

The crisis was sparked by Shevardnadze being hustled out of the country's parliament after anti-government protesters stormed the building.

Masked men with machine guns in pick-up trucks surrounded the president's car as he left the scene. Other politicians had fled the chamber also.

Shevardnadze had been speaking to parliament, swearing in a new government, after controversial elections.

Dozens of demonstrators forced their way into the chamber after about 20 minutes waving flags, chanting and banging desks.

Chaotic scenes developed outside with shuffling and pushing, while protesters burnt flags and placards. No gun fire has been heard.

Police appeared to run away from the scene, leaving protesters in control of the square.

Shevardnadze has in the past refused to stand down until the end of his tenure in 2005 despite weeks of protests against the election.

A stand-off had developed between pro and anti-government supporters Friday in Freedom Square outside the parliament.

The opposition parties -- the National Movement and the United Democrats -- claim Shevardnadze rigged the elections in favor of parties loyal to him.

The Georgian president -- who has held office since 1992 -- has warned Georgians that demonstrations could provoke a civil war.

When the official election results were announced, the president's Party for a New Georgia and the allied Revival Party took first and second place. The National Movement, the largest opposition party, came in third.

Saakashvili believes his party should have come in first, suggesting there was voter fraud. International election observers -- and the United States -- condemned the vote.

The Republic of Georgia, with approximately five million inhabitants, is among the poorest countries in the former Soviet Union. The average daily wage is about $1 while pensioners get less than 25 cents a day.

But geopolitically, the country is of enormous importance. Georgia wants to join NATO. The United States has just under 100 servicemen in country, including more than two dozen Marines training Georgian soldiers in counter terrorism tactics.

Russia also has troops in Georgia on several bases left over from Soviet days.

An international consortium is building an oil and gas pipeline through Georgia to move oil from the Caspian Sea to a Turkish port. Caspian oil is seen as a way to decrease dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf.

CNN's Dougherty said: "Nobody wants this country to collapse."


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