(Tbilisi) Thousands of opposition supporters gathered outside parliament in Tbilisi on Sunday amid growing criticism of the government, accused of pro-Russian authoritarian drift.

At the call of the main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM) founded by imprisoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, the demonstrators waved flags of Georgia, Ukraine and the European Union (EU), behind a large banner “For a European future”.

“Long live Misha!” they chanted, referring to the nickname of Mr. Saakashvili, who is serving a six-year prison sentence for “abuse of power”, and whose state of health has continued to deteriorate in recent months.

The demonstrators demand the “release of political prisoners and the implementation of the reforms” wanted by the EU to grant Tbilisi the status of candidate for membership, launched the president of the UNM, Levan Khabeichvili.

The government of the ruling Georgian Dream party is accused of imprisoning opponents, silencing independent media, secretly collaborating with the Kremlin and seeking to hijack the country from the EU.

“The government is controlled from Moscow and our obligation is to save our homeland from Russian minions,” former President Giorgui Margvelashvili said: “We love freedom, we are part of the European family, we reject Russian slavery “.

“Our fight will be peaceful but uncompromising and will take us where we belong, the European Union,” painter Luka Kavsadze, 27, told AFP among the protesters.

Under pressure from monster protests, the government last month backed away from a Russian-inspired bill to classify as “foreign agents” NGOs and media receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.

And the United States announced on Wednesday that it had banned four Georgian judges, accusing them of abusing their functions to serve the interests of an oligarch.

Along with Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia applied for EU membership days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory in late February 2022. In June, the EU granted official candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau, but asked Tbilisi to implement reforms first.