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Georgia's Presidential Election Campaign Kicks Off

Mikheil Saakasvhili resigned as president to begin campaigning (AFP) November 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- What promises to be a heated presidential-election campaign begins this week in Georgia, following weeks of unease in the wake of a violent clampdown on antigovernment protests earlier this month.

On November 25, the stage was officially set for the January 5 early elections when the country's president stepped down to begin campaigning, as required by law.

By the end of today, individuals who seek to participate in the elections are required to have registered with the Central Election Commission.

From there, presidential hopefuls have until December 6 to collect the signatures of 50,000 supporters, at which point they can be considered official candidates.

About a dozen potential candidates have thus far officially announced their intention to run. Among them are the leader of the Labor party, Shalva Natelashvili; the head of the New Rightists, Davit Gamkrelidze; opposition financier and business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili; and several independent candidates.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the country's incumbent president, also filled the legal requirements for his candidacy by handing over his powers to parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze on November 25.

One prominent opposition figure -- Levan Gachechiladze, the candidate proposed by the unified opposition, or National Council -- is expected to register with the Central Election Commission today.

Tens of thousands of Gachechiladze supporters took to the streets of Tbilisi on November 25 to demand that the pro-opposition television station Imedi TV be allowed to return to the airwaves. The station was closed down amid the violent clampdown on antigovernment protests on November 7.

"We want [parliament speaker and now acting president] Nino Burjanadze to take immediate measures to put Imedi TV on the air, to take immediate measures to ease pressure on other TV broadcasters, to take measures to release people from prisons," Gachechiladze told the rally. "Otherwise, we will return, return to the same steps, and we will oust Burjanadze as well."

Two prominent journalists have left Imedi TV since it was shut down.

One of them, Inga Grigolia, has struck out on her own and has already produced a lengthy interview with Saakashvili. The interview was aired on November 25 on Rustavi-2, Imedi television's main competitor.

In the interview, Saakashvili justified the closure of Imedi, which he described as a "machine of lies."

Saakashvili said the station would be allowed to resume broadcasting only after there are guarantees that it will no longer be used as a "weapon" in the hands of its founder, potential presidential candidate and opposition financier Badri Patarkatsishvili.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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