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Georgian President Replaces Reformist Prime Minister

President Saakashvili (left) named Gurgenidze to head a financial commission.

President Saakashvili (left) named Gurgenidze to head a financial commission.

TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has named a new prime minister, saying the former Soviet state needed "new energy" to tackle fresh challenges after war with Russia in August.

Saakashvili, under pressure after the crushing military defeat, asked parliament to approve 35-year-old Grigol Mgaloblishvili, Georgia's Oxford-educated ambassador to Turkey, to replace the reformist Lado Gurgenidze.

Saakashvili told a televised meeting with parliamentary deputies that he and Gurgenidze had made a "joint decision," saying constitutional amendments obliged the president to name a new prime minister after parliamentary elections held in May.

He told a later meeting of majority leaders that Gurgenidze's departure had been planned before the war, in which Russian troops repelled a Georgian military bid to retake the breakaway South Ossetia region.

"When Lado was appointed a year ago he told me he would be able to do this just for one year," Saakashvili said, sitting beside Gurgenidze. "Now we face new challenges."

"New power and new energy are needed to address these challenges. Our economy is under twin assault -- from the global financial crisis and the Russian aggression."

Gurgenidze said it was "a joint, consensual decision".

He told Reuters, "I have no doubt about the continuity of liberal economic policies in Georgia, which have driven Georgia's success over recent years."

No 'Radical' Changes

Officials said the prime minister-designate would reveal his new cabinet before a parliamentary debate, a date for which has yet to be announced. Saakashvili said there would be no radical changes to the cabinet.

Gurgenidze, a 37-year-old technocrat and former banker, became prime minister in November 2007, with the task of attracting foreign investment and maintaining economic growth.

But the August war has hit investor confidence and reined in otherwise healthy growth forecasts.

Georgia's pro-Western president, who came to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution, faces growing criticism from opponents who accuse him of walking into a war Georgia could not win.

Some opposition factions have announced a protest for November 7, the first anniversary of a police crackdown against opposition demonstrators that shocked Georgia's Western backers. Critics of Saakashvili say he has fallen short on promises to open up Georgia's democracy and increase media freedom.

Nino Burjanadze, a co-author of the Rose Revolution who split with Saakashvili this year, said she would form her own party to challenge the government.

"We have an authoritarian regime in Georgia rather than a democratic state," she told a news conference.