Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Sunday against the government's controversial plan to purchase natural gas from arch-foe Russia's state-owned energy giant, Gazprom.
Protesters with Georgian flags formed a six-kilometre human chain stretching across the city, from Russian embassy building to the government headquarters, chanting “No to Gazprom.”
The protest was organised by former president Mikheil Saakashvili's staunchly pro-Western United National Movement party (UNM), which has long accused the Kremlin of using Gazprom as a political weapon in a bid to prevent Georgia from forging closer ties with the West.
"The Georgian society will not allow this government to undermine the country's energy security," a senior UNM lawmaker, David Bakradze, told journalists.
Georgian Energy Ministry announced on Saturday that it had abandoned its initial plan to buy natural gas from Russia after it had secured a deal with Azerbaijan to purchase additional volume of gas.
According to Bakradze, the government’s decision was made as result of UNM's pressure on the authorities.
“The final goal will only be achieved when we firmly ascertain that we forced the government to say no to Georgia's return back to the influence of Gazprom," he said.
Another UNM leader, Giga Bokeria, said: "We must be vigilant so that this government doesn't do any more harm to Georgia's national interests -- until Georgians oust it from power in October parliamentary elections."
In January 2006, twin explosions on the Russia-Georgia gas pipeline, Mozdok-Tbilisi, suspended natural gas supplies to Georgia during a particularly cold winter.
Tbilisi has claimed the explosions were staged by Russian secret services to force the country into selling its pipelines to the Gazprom.
Moscow has denied the claims, blaming the explosions on North Caucasian "terrorist groups."
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the South Caucasus Pipeline that carry Caspian Sea oil and gas to the Western Europe via Georgia and Turkey -- bypassing Russia -- are seen as vital for reducing Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies.
Russia and Georgia fought a war in August 2008 and many in Georgia fear the country's former imperial master is determined to eventually retake control of it.