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Georgian President Sworn In For New Term

Mikheil Saakashvili (NATO) Mikheil Saakashvili has been inaugurated for a second five-year term as president of Georgia, pledging to bring Tbilisi closer to the West and at the same time repair a deep rift with neighboring Russia.

Saakashvili won reelection on January 5 with 52 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff. The vote came in the aftermath of a two-month-long political crisis that saw the pro-Western president break up opposition protests in Tbilisi in November, declare emergency rule, and temporarily shut down all opposition media.

After taking the oath of office in front of parliament in Tbilisi in an ornate ceremony, the 40-year-old Saakashvili appealed to Georgians to put aside the bitter divisions of the past months and look to the future.

"As the president of Georgia in the face of God and the people, I swear that I will protect the constitution, the independence, unity, and indivisibility of the country," Saakashvili said in his inaugural address. "I will undertake my presidential duty honestly and I will care for the security and prosperity of our citizens. I will do my best for the rebirth and invincibility of the people and of the country."

Foreign guests included Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Romanian President Traian Basescu, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The United States sent Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

The event was followed by a military parade, with some 2,500 soldiers and officers, tanks and heavy artillery, and fighter jets taking part.

Defiant Opposition

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of opposition protesters, who refuse to accept Saakashvili's win in the January 5 election, held a rally at a race track in another part of the capital. Opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze said the opposition wants to project the nation's "mistrust" onto Saakashvili's inauguration.

Gachechiladze placed second in the January 5 vote with 25 percent of the vote. But the opposition claims fraud pushed Saakashvili over the 50 percent threshold necessary to avoid a second round.

In his speech, Saakashvili said Georgia held the "most democratic elections" in its history. He also tried to reach out to the opposition, saying, "we must unite and build our country together," and that in the January 5 vote, Georgians made the choice for the country's unity and democratic development.

Most of the opposition supports Saakashvili's goal of bringing Georgia closer to the West. But they have accused him of ruling autocratically and of neglecting issues like growing poverty and Georgia's crumbling infrastructure.

On January 19, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza met with both government and opposition representatives. Bryza urged both sides to back away from confrontation and strengthen democracy by working for free and fair parliamentary elections in the spring.

A Russian Thaw?

Saakashvili also offered an olive branch to Russia, whose relations with Georgia plummeted during his first term as he moved to bring Georgia closer to NATO and the European Union.

"Four years ago, we extended a hand of friendship and cooperation to Russia. Today, I want to repeat that offer," he said.

After Tbilisi expelled Russian officers for spying in 2006, Moscow imposed a ban on Georgians traveling to Russia, although certain categories of citizens were later exempted. All direct transport links between Russia and Georgia, however, remain blocked and the country's main exports to Russia are banned.

After his inauguration speech, Saakashvili and Lavrov met. Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying that Moscow was "ready to consider the cancellation" of sanctions" but was "counting on reciprocal steps" from Tbilisi.

Saakashvili was elected to the presidency in 2004 after the Rose Revolution thrust him into power. But in November, he cut short his five-year term and ordered the early poll after police violently dispersed antigovernment protesters. The president also imposed a state of emergency.

The inauguration was to be completed on January 21 with a blessing for Saakashvili at the Orthodox Christian Bagrati Cathedral near the western town of Kutaisi.

The Rose Revolution

The Rose Revolution

An archive of RFE/RL's reporting and analysis on Georgia's Rose Revolution.

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