TBILISI - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met opposition leaders on Monday after a month of street protests aimed at forcing him from power.
Saakashvili agreed to the talks after violent clashes with police and a brief mutiny at a tank base increased the possibility of wider unrest in Georgia, a U.S. ally and an important transit route for energy flows to Europe.
The meeting coincides with NATO war games in the former Soviet republic that have been condemned by Russia.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the decision to go ahead with the exercises was a clear signal of Western support for Saakashvili, nine months after Russia fought a 5-day war to drive Georgian troops out of breakaway South Ossetia.
The opposition is demanding Saakashvili resign over his record on democracy and last year's disastrous war.
He has refused, and offered instead talks on democratic reforms to tackle opposition accusations he has monopolized power, undermined the judiciary and repressed free media.
The talks were being held at the new glass premises of the Interior Ministry on the airport road and far from the protest's mock prison cells that have paralyzed central Tbilisi.
The government's offer of reforms is testing the unity of more than a dozen parties taking part in the month-old protests.
Some say it is too late and point to previous unfulfilled promises. They say they will only discuss Saakashvili's departure from power. Others, notably former U.N. ambassador Irakly Alasania, are urging patience.
Neither side is predicting any breakthrough on Monday.
I am not expecting any results from this meeting, though I've said ... I will be happy if I'm mistaken and it turns out Saakashvili has undergone some kind of strange transformation and takes the right decision for the country by resigning, Nino Burjanadze, another protest leader and defector from Saakashvili, told Georgian television late on Sunday.
Hundreds of soldiers from more than a dozen NATO members and partners arrived last week to prepare for crisis response and peacekeeping exercises.
Putin criticized the Western alliance on Sunday for pressing ahead in spite of events in Georgia.
Against all this they decide to hold military exercises. It cannot be seen as anything but support for the ruling regime, he told Japanese media.
Analysts question whether the opposition has the numbers or the unity to unseat Saakashvili. The longer the stalemate drags on, the greater the risk of violence. Police firing tear gas and rubber bullets dispersed mass demonstrations against Saakashvili in 2007, to the anger of his Western backers.