Fri, Nov 16, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Georgia to lift emergency rule today, says speaker


The national state of emergency imposed after a police crackdown on opposition protests will be lifted today, Georgia's parliamentary speaker said, after the US and other Western nations pressed the government to remove the measure.

President Mikhail Saakashvili introduced the 15-day nationwide state of emergency last week, after police violently dispersed opposition protests in the capital, Tbilisi. The measure banned independent newscasts and demonstrations.

"The state of emergency will be lifted on Nov. 16, and we will switch to a normal life," Parliament Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, a close ally of Saakashvili, said in a televised statement, adding that she was entitled to make the statement on the government's behalf.

However, it was unclear if Imedi Television, one of the country's most prominent channels, would resume broadcasts after the measure was lifted. The station's managing director, Bidzina Baratashvili, said on Wednesday that a court had ordered Imedi's license suspended.

US Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said on Tuesday, after meeting the Georgian leadership and opposition in Tbilisi, that he had been assured the state of emergency would be lifted today. By naming a date, Bryza appeared to increase pressure on the government to act.

Saakashvili has accused Russia of orchestrating the protests, and said the crackdown was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos.

Russian officials have denied claims of interference into Georgian affairs, and the Georgian opposition angrily rejected Saakashvili's claims of its Moscow links.

Saakashvili announced the state of emergency on Wednesday last week, after riot troops used clubs and tear gas against opposition protesters in Tbilisi.

The protests had been sparked by the arrest of former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, after he alleged that the president was involved in corruption and a murder plot. Okruashvili, formerly a Saakashvili ally, was later released on bail and left for Germany under cloudy circumstances, but a Tbilisi court issued an order yesterday for his arrest.

The state of emergency drew sharp criticism from the West, and could harm the Georgian president's efforts to integrate the small Caucasus nation into the EU and NATO.

In a bid to defuse the political crisis, the worst Saakashvili has faced in nearly four years in power, he has called early presidential elections for Jan. 5.

"I hope that we will start preparations for the elections and hold them on a fair and democratic basis," Burdzhanadze said on Wednesday.

The opposition complained that the ban on independent broadcasts and official harassment of opposition leaders have prevented it from campaigning.

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