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Georgia Wants Stronger Energy, Investment Ties With Kazakhstan --> Georgian President Saakashvili (file photo) (AFP) 10 January 2006 -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says he hopes Kazakhstan will soon become the leading foreign investor in his country.

Saakashvili made his comments after arriving in the Kazakh capital Astana, where he is due to attend the inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbaev tomorrow.

After talks with the president, Saakashvili praised the current level of economic cooperation between Georgia and Kazakhstan, particularly in the energy, tourism, and construction sectors. He also lauded Nazarbaev's economic reforms as a model for Georgia.

Saakashvili said he hoped Georgia and Kazakhstan could further develop their cooperation on energy issues.

"Just as many countries in the region, we haven't been able to settle all pending [energy] issues with Russia because of Russia's own position,” he said. “However, we've been working very well with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on these issues. This is not just about energy supplies, but also about controlling and improving energy networks, and about using energy more efficiently."

Georgia depends heavily on Russia for its energy supplies. Both sides last month agreed that Russia’s state-owned monopoly Gazprom would now charge Georgia $110 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas, up from the current $64.

In an editorial in yesterday's "Washington Post," Saakashvili accused Moscow of using its energy wealth to pressure its former Soviet neighbors. He also urged Europe, which is getting one-fourth of its gas supplies from Russia, to diversify its energy sources.

(from agency reports)