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Georgia: Regional Reaction Generally Cautious About Saakashvili's Election Victory

Georgia's election commission says Mikheil Saakashvili has won 96 percent of the vote in Georgia's presidential election, with one-third of the ballots counted. Full results of the 4 January ballot are expected tomorrow, although Saakashvili and his supporters already declared victory on the day of the election.

Prague, 6 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Mikheil Saakashvili, who spearheaded the wave of peaceful protests that toppled former President Eduard Shevardnadze in the November 2003 "Rose Revolution," has pledged to battle corruption, work for prosperity, bring Georgia's separatist territories under Tbilisi's control, and to pursue good relations with European countries, the United States, and Russia.

What's been the reaction to his all-but-certain election victory from countries in the region?

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said Russia will formulate its attitude toward the new Georgian administration only after official election results have been announced.

He said Russia is interested in a "democratic and stable Georgia that has friendly relations with its neighboring states and respects the interests of all people living within that multinational country."

In recent interviews, Saakashvili has repeatedly stressed the importance he attaches to improving relations with Russia.

"One of the main priorities of Georgia's new leadership is to establish much closer, warmer, and friendlier relations with the Russian Federation. The first steps in that direction have already been made. Naturally, we have our own national interests, and Russia, as a superpower, has its own national interests, but we will certainly find common ground to normalize our relations and begin a new era in our relations," Saakashvili said.

In Azerbaijan, authorities have not signaled any fresh enthusiasm for the situation in Georgia. This attitude is best exemplified by Novruz Mamedov, a representative of Azerbaijan's presidential administration, who told journalists yesterday that "we are sure that the relations between our countries will be developing as successfully as before."

He added: "Azerbaijan and Georgia have a common political and economic orientation and our countries are tied by large regional projects, so there is no doubt regarding our future cooperation."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Foreign Minister Vilayet Kuliyev was likewise reserved.

"This change of government [in Georgia] is being received very normally [in Azerbaijan], and we will establish the necessary relations with the new government and leadership in Georgia," Kuliyev said.

Kuliyev added, "It is fully in the interests of both Azerbaijan and Georgia in this period to keep [bilateral] relations at their normal level."

However, Azerbaijan's opposition figures have been much more positive in their responses.

Nuraddin Mamedli, a leading member of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, said the democratic processes in Georgia and Armenia are far ahead of similar processes in Azerbaijan. He said he believes developments in Georgia will seriously encourage democratization in the South Caucasus as a whole.

Ali Kerimli, head of the reformers' wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, called Saakashvili's win a "victory of democracy."
One of the main priorities of Georgia's new leadership is to establish much closer, warmer, and friendlier relations with the Russian Federation

In contrast to the reserved response from the Azerbaijani authorities, Armenia, as a whole, has welcomed Saakashvili's victory.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told RFE/RL that Armenian authorities are absolutely confident Saakashvili's victory will "open a new page in Armenian-Georgian relations" and give a new boost to political and economic relations.

Gasparian added that "the Georgian elections were very important for Armenia because they should contribute to Georgia's stability and form a new government, with which Armenia is ready to deepen bilateral relations."

Armenian opposition politician Vazgen Manukyan, a former prime minister and outspoken critic of the current government in Yerevan, indicated his satisfaction with the Georgian election results.

"I can only congratulate Saakashvili and the Georgian people that they finally have a legitimate president and government, backed by the majority of the people," Manukyan said.

Manukyan narrowly lost to incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossian in a 1996 election that one of Ter-Petrossian's close associates later admitted was rigged.

Galust Sahakyan heads the parliamentary faction of the Republican Party of Armenia, the senior partner in the ruling three-party coalition government. Referring to Georgia's separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said, "[The new Georgian establishment] will have some problems with territorial integrity. It is too early to say if they can overcome this problem. But we support Georgia's territorial integrity."

(RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services contributed to this report.)

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