Georgia president stresses independence

President-elect Mikhail Saakashvili has said Georgia is not a battleground for the United States or Russia, stressing the former Soviet republic's independence.

    At 36, Saakashvili is one of the world's youngest presidents

    Speaking at a news conference on the eve of his swearing-in, Saakashvili said a major priority was "to resolve … misunderstandings with Russia".

    "Everyone has to understand that Georgia is an independent state. We do not want to transform Georgia into a battleground between the United States and Russia."

    The soon-to-be-president called once again on Moscow to honour its commitments and withdraw troops from bases in Georgia - in accordance with a 1999 treaty.

    "These bases do not serve to protect the southern borders of Russia. We understand the Russian interests and we ourselves can better assure the security than these bases".

    The 36-year-old takes office in a ceremony to be attended by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

    He has received backing on the withdrawal of the 3000 Russian troops from Powell, who called earlier for Russia to follow through on its promises.

    Separatist issues

    Expectations are high that Georgia
    can pull itself out of poverty

    The president intends to deal with the question of Georgia's separatist region of Abkhazia, saying: "We want to settle this question by peaceful means".

    He also said he was unsure whether Aslan Abashidze, leader of the autonomous Georgian republic of Adjara, would attend his swearing-in. But Saakashvili stressed Tbilisi still controlled the separatist area.

    Abashidze declared the forced departure in November of former president Eduard Shevardnadze as a "coup d'etat" and threatened to break all ties with the government.
     
    Shevardnadze dominated political life in Georgia for decades, first as the former Soviet foreign minister who helped end the Cold War and then as post-Soviet president.

    But the veteran leader encountered increasing public discontent over government corruption and poverty.

    His career came to an abrupt end when Saakashvili spearheaded mass protests over a disputed parliamentary election that eventually forced him to resign at the end of November.

    Saakashvili clinched victory in the subsequent presidential election in January.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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