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Georgia's New Leader Moves to Allay Fears

She meets with the old guard and foreign envoys, and calls for a date for new elections.

November 25, 2003|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

TBILISI, Georgia — Interim President Nino Burjanadze moved swiftly Monday to consolidate the former opposition's control of government in the wake of President Eduard A. Shevardnadze's forced resignation.

Burjanadze chaired a meeting of the former Soviet republic's National Security Council, which includes government ministers and other high officials. Most members had been appointed by the former regime, and the meeting signaled the willingness of the old guard to cooperate with her.

She said there would be no wholesale Cabinet reshuffle but demanded the resignation of some officials, including Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili, who controlled the national police. He complied later in the day.

"I do not want the people to become nervous once more without any reason and purpose," he said.

His departure eased fears that security forces might resist the new authorities.

Burjanadze said the parliament that she had led as speaker would resume its duties. She called on it to meet today to set a date for a presidential election, which under the constitution should be held within 45 days. New parliamentary elections in place of discredited early November balloting will be held at the same time, she said.

Her actions denied legitimacy to a parliament that Shevardnadze had convened on Saturday -- until opposition protesters stormed the parliament building in mid-session, forcing him to break off a speech and flee. That action capped three weeks of opposition protests alleging that Shevardnadze had, in effect, stolen the Nov. 2 election.

He resigned Sunday rather than use force to try to reassert control.

Burjanadze, a 39-year-old lawyer, assumed authority under a constitutional provision that makes the speaker first in line of succession.

"Order must be restored immediately, not only in Tbilisi but also in all the regions of the country," she said in a televised speech.

The streets of Tbilisi, the capital, quickly returned to normal Monday. Workers swept the debris of a protest rally -- followed by a jubilant celebration -- that took place Sunday in front of parliament. Monday evening, a crowd gathered at the same place for an outdoor concert by performers who had supported the revolt.

Contrary to some reports indicating that he had left the country Sunday night for Germany, Shevardnadze remained at one of his residences here.

"Although I love Germany very much, my homeland is Georgia and I owe it to her to stay here," he told Germany's ZDF television.

The former opposition leaders who led the drive to oust him promised that as long as no bloodshed resulted from his resignation, he would be safe if he chose to remain in the country.

There were no indications that any national security or defense officials were attempting to organize resistance to the new authorities.

But in the autonomous region of Adzharia on the Black Sea coast, an official representing strongman Aslan Abashidze declared in televised remarks that "a forceful coup d'etat by criminal forces" had taken place in Tbilisi and that his regional government "will end the relationship" with central authorities.

A Western diplomat, who requested anonymity, said he believed the tensions between the new government and Abashidze, a Shevardnadze ally, would not erupt into violence.

"Consultations are underway ... on normalizing the situation," National Security Council secretary Tedo Japaridze told reporters. The secretary, who broke with Shevardnadze last week, was among the officials retained by the interim president.

Foreign diplomatic representatives in Tbilisi, including U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles, met with Burjanadze at her invitation Monday evening.

Burjanadze said Georgia would continue a foreign policy focused on ties with the U.S. and Western Europe, while good relations with neighboring countries, particularly Russia, are also an important goal.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin expressed hope that his country's ties with Georgia might improve.

"Relations between Russia and Georgia in recent years had been quite difficult," he said in remarks broadcast on Russian television. "We assume the future legally elected leadership of the country will do everything possible to restore the tradition of friendship between our countries."

But Putin also criticized the way in which the former opposition took power.

"Shevardnadze has never been a dictator," Putin said. "That is why we are very much concerned that the change of regime in Georgia took place against the backdrop of pressure by force."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. looks forward to "working with interim President Burjanadze in her effort to maintain the integrity of Georgia's democracy as she strives to ensure that this change in government follows the constitution."

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