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Georgia's new leaders win backing from Washington
( 2003-11-24 10:31) (Reuters)

Georgia's new leaders won U.S. support and said they would seek urgent international financial aid on Monday after President Eduard Shevardnadze was ousted in a bloodless revolution.

Washington backed the new interim president, outgoing parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, to promote fresh elections in the impoverished former Soviet republic after Shevardnadze bowed to mass protests over alleged vote-rigging and resigned.

"The United States and the international community stand ready to support the new government in holding free and fair parliamentary elections in the future," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, adding Secretary of State Colin Powell had called Burdzhanadze to offer support.

Powell also spoke to Shevardnadze and Boucher praised the former Soviet foreign minister -- a hero in the West when he helped oversee the end of the Cold War -- for resigning after 11 years in power "in the best interests of (Georgia's) people."

Burdzhanadze urged Georgians to work to restore order quickly in the Caucasus mountain state, anxiously watched in the West because a pipeline is being built through its territory to carry Caspian oil to the Mediterranean Sea.

"From tomorrow order and stability should be restored in the country and I appeal to all law enforcement agencies to return to a normal rhythm of work. And I appeal to our citizens to help them," Burdzhanadze said in a television address on Sunday.


"From (Monday) we will start consultations with foreign governments for special financial and technical assistance to solve the problems that exist from the last government," Zurab Zhvania, a top protest leader, told reporters.

Burdzhanadze had lined up alongside the main opposition leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, to turn the protests against alleged election fraud into a movement to replace the president in the country of five million.

"Right now we are in a transitional period," said Saakashvili, a 35-year-old U.S.-educated lawyer, tipped as a possible new president. "We are hopeful the transitional period will be swift and that elections will be held on time."

Saakashvili called Shevardnadze's ousting a "velvet revolution," echoing the peaceful toppling of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Presidential elections should be held within 45 days under the constitution, but the status of the contested new parliament is ambiguous. Burdzhanadze will be acting president during the 45-day period.

Tens of thousands of Georgians celebrated into the night in the capital Tbilisi after hounding Shevardnadze, 75, from office over accusations he rigged November 2 parliamentary polls won by his supporters.

Dancing, whistling, singing and waving from atop cars and even a tractor, they turned three weeks of protests that unnerved their neighboring states and Western governments into a giant street party.


Many hoped for a fresh start in a country where public sector salaries average $20 a month. Georgians fought a bloody civil war in the early 1990s and two regions have broken away from central government rule.

"I feel like I have been born again," Gela Papunashvili said in Tbilisi's parliament square as he hugged and kissed strangers around him, counting them as comrades.

On Saturday, the protesters seized the parliament building. As with the "people power" protests that swept Eastern Europe in 1989, the military stood aside.

Shevardnadze, former Communist Party boss in Georgia, quit after a day of high drama during which Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov shuttled between the veteran leader and the opposition camp.

Russia said it could not remain "indifferent" to events in Georgia, which receives cheap gas and power from its former imperial master.

Shevardnadze's white-haired head was bowed as he walked away after his televised resignation on Sunday, saying he did not want to be responsible for bloodshed in Georgia. But he gave a strained smile and lifted his hand to wave goodbye.

Despite some suggestions that Shevardnadze would go into exile, he was believed to be with family at his private residence in Tbilisi.

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