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IN THE NEWS - Georgia Politics - 2003-11-28

Broadcast: November 29, 2003

This is Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS from VOA Special English.

Mikhail Saakashvili has announced plans to be a candidate for President in Georgia. Mister Saakashvili helped organize street protests that led to President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign from office last Sunday.

Mister Saakashvili is an American-trained lawyer. He served two years as Georgia’s Justice Minister. Last year, he cut his ties with Mister Shevardnadze over the issue of dishonesty by Georgian officials. Mister Saakashvili formed an opposition party, the National Movement. He also was elected to a top local government job in the capital, Tbilisi. On Wednesday, the National Movement and its allies named him as their only candidate in a special presidential election to be held in January.

Mister Shevardnadze left office after three weeks of demonstrations against parliamentary elections held earlier this month. Opposition leaders said the elections were unfairly designed to keep pro-government parties in power.

Last Saturday, thousands of protesters forced their way into Georgia’s parliament building. They forced Mister Shevardnadze and newly-appointed lawmakers to flee. The next day, the President resigned, ending his eleven-years in office.

Mister Shaakashvili had help from two other opponents of Mister Shevardnadze. The speaker of parliament, Nino Burdzhanadze, is now Georgia’s acting president. The other leader, Zurab Zhvania, has been named state minister, the second highest position in the government.

Georgian lawmakers have yet to agree on a date for new parliamentary elections. On Tuesday, the nation’s Supreme Court canceled the results of the parliamentary elections this month.

Mizz Burdzhanadze has said one of her main goals will be to keep peace in Georgia. She says another goal will be to strengthen the economy and prepare for new elections. However, she warned that the country is close to economic failure. She said she would appeal for financial aid.

Georgia is one of the poorest of any of the fifteen former republics of the Soviet Union. The country is home to about five-million people. Some reports estimate that about half of its population is unemployed.

Many blame President Shevardnadze for leading the country into financial ruin. Georgia has a foreign debt of almost two-thousand-million dollars, most of it owed to Turkey and Russia. It also receives financial assistance from the United States.

But opposition leaders say Mister Shevardnadze failed to use much of that money the right way. The International Monetary Fund refused to give loans to Georgia during Mister Shevardnadze’s rule. It notes dishonesty by public officials and the country’s failure to collect taxes. The temporary government cannot pay wages or retirement benefits until after the presidential election next year.

Delegations from the I-M-F, the World Bank and the United States are expected to visit Tbilisi next week to discuss the country’s appeal for financial aid.

IN THE NEWS, from VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.