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Georgia Lifts State Of Emergency, New Prime Minister Nominated

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at Tbilisi airport today (AFP) November 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia's  nationwide state of emergency was lifted this evening, raising the curtain on what is expected to be a heated campaign for snap presidential elections.

President Mikheil Saakashvili imposed the emergency measures amid a violent crackdown on opposition protests and claims that Tbilisi had thwarted a Moscow-backed coup. The measures included a ban of demonstrations, while independent television stations were prevented from broadcasting news programs.

He later announced that presidential elections, which were to be held in the fall of 2008, would be moved up to January 5.

Shortly after the state of emergency was lifted on its ninth day today, Saakashvili made an announcement that appeared designed to boost his government's image ahead of the presidential poll.

Saakashvili announced during a press conference that Zurab Noghaideli, who had defended the use of force to break up the antipresidential protests, would be replaced by Lado Gurgenidze, the chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Bank of Georgia.

"We have assigned the new prime minister with the task of ensuring, gradually and in the nearest future, the doubling of pensions, the decisive increase of teachers' wages, the decisive increase of social aid, the decisive expansion of employment programs, and making the results of our reforms even more tangible for each of our citizens," Saakashvili said. "This is very important to ensure that our reforms become even more intense, and we continue building and developing our country at an even greater pace."

Upon receiving the nomination, Gurgenidze stressed the importance of developing social programs and the country's business environment.

"First of all, this is of course very big honor for me, and I appreciate it and realize my whole responsibility," Gurgenidze said. "I believe the message of his majesty -- people -- has come through, and has been understood. This message primarily is that more emphasis should be placed upon social programs, and this of course should underline those reforms which, if I am approved by the parliament, we will surely pursue."

Gurgenidze is expected to be approved by Georgia's parliament this week.

Earlier today, President Saakashvili vowed that all contestants in the January 5 election could count on fair representation in the media.

"I want to tell you that all political forces, all representatives of the political spectrum, all citizens, will have a full opportunity to exercise their political activities without any restrictions," Saakashvili said. "We have special laws that guarantee the use of the media by the opposition."

But while most independent and private television stations resumed their operations immediately after the state of emergency was lifted, the fate of the country's main opposition channel remained unclear.

Imedi TV -- which was dramatically shut down by special forces troops during a live news broadcast just hours before the state of emergency was declared on November 7 -- remains off the air.

The station's broadcast license was suspended by the Tbilisi City Court earlier this week after it ruled that Imedi's coverage of the November 7 crackdown on opposition protesters constituted incitement to overthrow the government.

David Bakradze, Georgia's minister for conflict resolution, said during a news conference today that the station will be allowed to resume broadcasts as soon as the government can ensure that it will not be used as "tool for inciting violence and mass disturbances."

Imedi and its founder, prominent opposition figure and financier Badri Patarkatsishvili, are currently under investigation by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The station is currently controlled by international media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

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