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Can humor, and a masseuse, bring down a president?

Georgian youth protesters seize upon "Dr. Dot" in their battle against Saakashvili.

TBILISI, Georgia — If Georgia’s opposition succeeds in driving President Mikheil Saakashvili from office, they will have a buxom, effusive, celebrity masseuse partly to thank for it. 

Images of the Georgian leader posing with “Dr. Dot,” a striking American massage therapist, have materialized throughout Tbilisi, part of the opposition’s campaign to force Saakashvili to resign through ridicule. 

The photos are the work of “April 9” and “Ratom?” (“Why?”), two youth groups affiliated with protests that began earlier this month and which initially brought more than 40,000 to the streets of the capital. 

Among his sins, the president is accused of launching an unsuccessful war with Russia — which resulted in tens of thousands of refugees and a loss of 20 percent of Georgia's territory — mismanaging the economy, veering towards dictatorship and generally behaving in an unhinged manner. 

The two groups have employed for their purposes a variety of agitprop actions and images from other less-than-flattering moments from the president’s past — for instance a shot of Saakashvili (from a BBC documentary on the war) nervously chewing on his tie. 

During the demonstrations crowds have taken to hurling carrots and cabbages and depositing one unlucky rabbit at the presidential residence. (“Rabbit” is slang for coward in Georgian.) “April 9” members perform street theatre where they smile idiotically and try to embrace anyone within reach — a parody of the president’s gregariousness — or hop around like bunnies. 

A popular folk singer, Giorgi Gachechiladze, whose brother ran against Saakashvili in elections last year, launched a television reality program in which he has fitted a room to look like a jail cell (symbolizing the police state that he says Georgia has become) and refuses to leave until the president steps down. Demonstrators have now erected mock cages in solidarity with Gachechiladze at protest sites. 

Whether such blunt (and admittedly often primitive) humor will find its mark is far from clear. Numbers have dwindled at the protests to just over a thousand. Some opposition leaders are now calling for dialogue with the government. And although Saakashvili’s popularity appears to have dropped significantly since last August’s war, many still support him, while others say that they prefer stability to any more changes at the top.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/russia-and-its-neighbors/090422/can-humor-and-masseuse-bring-down-president