"A revolution has begun and the authorities have started it, as they use criminal actions against us, while we have only peaceful methods," she told journalists.
Independent Georgian observers say they find it difficult to explain why the opposition is suddenly erupting into the streets after nearly two years of relative quiescence. Although critics of Saakashvili are numerous, especially in the capital, Tbilisi, the president's party won a massive victory in parliamentary elections a year ago, which, despite being criticized as unsatisfactory by some international observers, seemed to show that he enjoys the support of the majority of Georgians.
The next presidential elections are due in 2013.
"Not much has changed in the past year, the economic and political situations have remained pretty stagnant," says George Khutsishvili, director of the independent International Center on Conflict and Negotiation in Tbilisi. "I can't see anything new that would suggest that Saakashvili would fall. It's true that there's widespread discontent against him, but not so outspoken as in the past.... The main problems are that people's incomes are flat, there is high unemployment, and many people are pessimistic about the country's prospects for development. People hear a lot about reform [from Saakashvili] but see no positive changes in their lives."
Rose revolution 2.0?
The wave of protests began Saturday with a rally of about 10,000 in downtown Tbilisi, followed by several smaller demonstrations around the city that continued on Monday. Experts say it could develop into a drawn-out street confrontation lasting weeks, such as the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that brought Saakashvili to power – a formula that the opposition has twice tried to imitate.