Tue, Nov 25, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Georgians finally get a new leader

AFP , TBILISI

Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, credited with helping end the Cold War, resigned to scenes of wild jubilation on Sunday after weeks of angry protests.

Georgia's new leader yesterday promised to quickly hold presidential elections.

"I think it necessary to hold an election as quickly as possible," said Nino Burdzhanadze, a former parliament speaker to whom Shevardnadze handed over power in a dramatic climax to mounting popular unrest over alleged fraud in a Nov. 2 parliamentary poll.

She said new elections would be held within 45 days as required by Georgia's constitution and promised to keep to the former president's foreign policy course, which has seen Tbilisi aim for NATO membership.

"The most important thing right now is to keep to our foreign policy, to improve our relations with Russia and other neighbors and to keep the stability inside the country," she said in televised comments from inside the parliament building.

"Our goal is to be a member of the European family, a member of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. We would like to keep up our strategic partnership with the United States, which has done a lot for our country," she said.

Burdzhanadze met early yesterday with Georgia's top security officials and thanked them for not getting involved in the weekend's political turmoil. She planned to meet with the nation's security council later in the day.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the US recognized the interim government and was looking forward to working with Burdzhanadze "in her effort to maintain the integrity of Georgia's democracy."

Washington and the international community, he said Sunday, "stand ready to support the new government in holding free and fair parliamentary elections in the future as required by the constitution."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell called Burdzhanadze to express US support, Boucher added.

Tbilisi returned to normal yesterday and all evidence of the mass celebration the night prior faded away -- not an empty bottle or a banner littered the square in front of parliament.

Only hours before, that square along with large parts of Tbilisi had been filled with thousands of cheering protesters who danced as cars honked their horns in a deafening barrage to celebrate the news of Shevardnadze's resignation.

"I am leaving," he said in televised comments after meeting with the leaders of the opposition in this former Soviet republic.

"I have never betrayed my people and that's why I think that as president, I should submit my resignation," Shevardnadze said.

The capital of the tiny Caucasus nation erupted with joy at the news, as people cheered on car hoods, roofs and hanging out of windows.

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