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Peaceful protest topples Georgia's president

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Among the soldiers - and perhaps forming the bulwark to prevent a civil war here - were 120 special forces soldiers of the interior ministry who sided with the opposition against Shevardnadze.

The unit at the parliament was one of several that declared their allegiance to the opposition Sunday; Col. Chomania said that "all troops" think the same way, and that with "one phone call," he could retrieve the other 1,000 men "within half an hour."

Opposition chiefs had vowed to conduct a "velvet revolution," similar to the bloodless coup that ended communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. But Sunday the enormity of the task ahead - and the dangers of violence and possible civil war that still exist - weighed heavily.

"What people forget is that still, today, Shevardnadze has been leader of Georgia much longer as a communist, than as a so-called democrat or independent president," said Anatol Lieven, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington who witnessed the civil war and turmoil in Georgia in the early 1990s. "This man's whole grip was formed by the communist dictatorship. So the question is: Can [opposition leader Mikhail] Saakashvili put the state back together again?"

The youthful, US-educated Saakashvili, a former justice minister, is frequently referred to by analysts as a "hothead" who walked out of negotiations with the president, and perhaps has not thought through a workable strategy for the opposition. Shevardnadze calls him a "dangerous phenomenon."

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