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Georgian President Sacks Customs Head

The locked office of Georgia's National Commission for Transport Regulation (InterPressNews) February 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has fired the chairman of Georgia's customs service, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported.

He fired Zurab Antelidze after visiting a customs terminal and listening to citizens' complaints.

Saakashvili visited the Tbilisi customs terminal with members of his government after a cabinet meeting in which the president criticized the customs service as inefficient.

Saakashvili told Antelidze that it was not enough for customs officers to just be honest and refrain from taking bribes -- they also must be efficient.

"Personnel working in lower structures, lower echelons -- and sometimes even higher ones -- are often very incompetent," Saakashvili said. "Of course we must protect the market from contraband. But this is exactly why we simplified the customs code and procedures -- so at the expense of our wish to protect the market from smuggled goods, we do not poison lives of our decent citizens."

Also today, Saakashvili ordered the National Commission for Transport Regulation closed.

Saakashvili called the commission -- which regulates Georgia's air, rail, and road transport -- a "leech" and a "parasite."

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