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Georgia: Lawmakers Meeting To Consider Date For New Parliamentary Elections

Prague, 27 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian lawmakers are meeting this afternoon to discuss setting a date for parliamentary elections to replace a flawed vote earlier this month that was annulled by the Supreme Court.

Opposition protests over the disputed election led to the 23 November resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Deputies also are expected to consider extending yesterday's deadline for candidates to enter the race for president. The election is set for 4 January. Opposition leaders said yesterday they have unified behind Mikhail Saakashvili, principal organizer of the protests that led to Shevardnadze's ouster.

Before discussing those matters, however, the parliament made interim appointments for three ministerial posts whose incumbents resigned upon the collapse of the Shevardnadze presidency. The acting president, Nino Burjanadze, had nominated Zurab Zhvania for state minister; Zurab Noghaideli for minister of finance; and Giorgi Baramidze for minister of internal affairs. All three were approved this afternoon by deputies.

As Georgia's interim leadership moved to solidify its authority, Aslan Abashidze, the leader of the southern autonomous republic of Adjaria and a Shevardnadze ally, said yesterday he will defy any directives from Georgia's new government.

After meeting in Moscow yesterday with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Abashidze said he and Kasyanov had talked about economic cooperation.

"We discussed many problems during today's meeting, but the most important subject was economic cooperation [between Adjaria and Russia]," he said. "On the basis of this economic cooperation, we can help the stabilization of Georgia."

Opposition leader Saakashvili took a conciliatory tone yesterday, insisting that, whatever the differences with Adjaria's leadership, they can be resolved peacefully.

"There are no ethnic differences. There are no human differences," he said. "There is only a governor there who doesn't like me. Then what? He doesn't like me, and I certainly don't like his methods of being dictatorial and authoritarian. But it does not mean that there should not be dialogue. There will be dialogue. There will be a peaceful settlement."

But Saakashvili also insisted that Adjaria must remain part of Georgia.

"Concerning Adjaria -- first of all, we will settle it with peaceful means. Then, nobody can take Adjaria away from Georgia. This is as stupid as saying that one of the districts of Tbilisi might decide one day to be independent. It just cannot be."

Abashidze spoke of dialogue, too, but in a different tone.

"I am ready for dialogue with anyone, even a criminal who is holding a broken bottle, even a weapon, in his hand. But that doesn't mean I share his ideas. These people have never brought anything but devastation to the country."

Acting President Burjanadze, who has allied herself with Saakashvili, has said she will travel to Adjaria for talks with Abashidze.

In Moscow today, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he will meet separately tomorrow with leaders from Adjaria and the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. News reports say a delegation from breakaway Abkhazia already has returned home. Ivanov has received much praise in Georgia for his role in mediating between opposition leaders and Shevardnadze, who eventually resigned.

Yesterday, Saakashvili said he intends to reach out toward the West and Russia.

"I think one of my first visits, perhaps even before the [4 January presidential] election, should be to Moscow to discuss all our bilateral relations," he said. "For us, it is critically important to settle all disputed issues and restore normal, human, friendly, and warm relations with our great northern neighbor."

U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned Burjanadze late yesterday to discuss the dispatch of a team to Georgia that will be headed by B. Lynn Pascoe, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state. The mission will be charged with helping Tbilisi with economic and political reforms.

A delegation from the International Monetary Fund met with Georgian officials yesterday and assured them of a renewal of economic aid halted last year to the Shevardnadze government because of inefficiency and corruption.

(Nino Gelashvili of RFE/RL's Georgian Service assisted with this report.)