On Georgia’s independence day, more than 50,000 opposition supporters have gathered (photo, from bbc.co.uk) in order to demand president Mikhail Saakashvili’s resignation.
In a stadium in Tbilissi, the country’s capital, the crowd sang the national anthem and heard speeched by opposition leaders. Since April, daily rallies have been held by the opposition.
Mr Saakashvili is accused by critics of bungling last year’s war with Russia and restricting democracy.
To avoid clashes, a major military parade has been called off earlier by the government.
The parade was due to travel along Rustaveli Avenue, the capital’s main street, that has been blocked for weeks with mock prison cells by opposition activists.
Usually, on independence day, Georgians get together to unite behind the country, said BBC’s Tom Esslemont in Tbilissi.
The thousands who gathered this year at Dynamo Tbilisi’s 60,000-seat stadium are united not just behind Georgia, but also in their support for the opposition parties, he added.
The opposition leaders walked into the stadium and repeated their demand that Mr Saakashvili step down immediately, in front of the cheering crowd who waved red and white handkerchiefs and flags.
“I’m sure we will win. We will not take a single step back. All we demand is the president’s resignation”, said Nino Burjanadze, a former ally of Mr Saakashvili who now leads the Democratic Movement-United Georgia party.
As it has been the main location of their protests in the past six weeks, the opposition supporters are expected to march to the parliament building later.
Forcing the government to cancel the annual military parade might be the biggest coup for the opposition so far, said BBC’s correspondent.
The fact that it is a national holiday and an important occasion in Georgia may account for the large turnout at the Dynamo stadium, but no matter how much support they say they have, the opposition leaders say they will continue their demonstrations until President Saakashvili resigns, he adds.
On Monday, the US and EU issued a joint statement urging the government and opposition to “end the current stalemate on the streets and begin negotiations immediately and without preconditions on a new programme of reforms to invigorate Georgia’s democracy”.