Georgia's new leader appeals to Washington for emergency aid

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Georgia's new leaders took control yesterday and promised to hold elections within 45 days, while appealing to Washington for urgently needed funds. And in her first address to the nation, the interim president, Nino Burdzhanadze, repealed the state of emergency announced two days earlier by the deposed president, Eduard Shevardnadze.

"The state of emergency should not have been announced and there is no need for it now," she said.

Georgia, already one of the biggest recipients of US aid in the world, is likely to ask Washington for £5m to stage new elections. The European Commission stressed that democratic elections must be held to help restore "a climate of trust and confidence" in the country. Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State, has already offered his support to Ms Burdzhanadze.

Life in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, returned to normal after Sunday night, when thousands of peaceful protesters, outraged by fraudulent elections, forced Mr Shevardnadze to quit. But Mikhail Saakashvili, 35, who led the protests with Ms Burdzhanadze, said trouble was still possible elsewhere in the country and called on Georgians to maintain order. "We are calling on all local administrators to go back and assume their responsibilities and functions, to prevent any kind of armed movement on our territory," he said. "I don't expect that, but it could always happen, given our history."

Mr Saakashvili did not elaborate, but in the past he has warned that police and special forces from Adzharia, the autonomous province led by his arch-rival Aslan Abashidze, could take action against his supporters.

Ms Burdzhanadze blamed the State Minister, Avtandil Dzhorbenadze, for the rigged ballot and said he should go. "The State Minister is responsible for this economic crisis into which the country has been led and also for holding the 2 November parliamentary elections," she said.

Koba Narchemashvili, the Interior Minister and a Shevardnadze loyalist, announced his resignation last night. He was following in the footsteps of three regional governors, two city mayors and a deputy state minister who have already stepped down.

Russia and the United States, rivals for control over the Caspian sea's enormous oil wealth, appear to have forged a pragmatic alliance to ensure a smooth transfer of power in Georgia. The United States is worried that prolonged political unrest could disrupt construction of pipelines that cross Georgia to bring Azerbaijan's huge energy reserves to Western markets.

Russia, which has two military bases there, fears turmoil on its sensitive southern border could allow militants to step up attacks on Russian forces in Chechnya. President Vladimir Putin, who sent his Foreign Minister to mediate in the crisis, said he was concerned Mr Shevardnadze had been forced out by the threat of violence. But he criticised the deposed president for "systemic errors in foreign, domestic and economic policy", adding: "Relations between Russia and Georgia in recent years have been quite difficult ... We assume the future, legally elected leadership of the country will do everything possible to restore the tradition of friendship between our countries."

Mr Shevardnadze defended his actions yesterday as he described the moment he took the decision to step down. "My relations, my mother, daughter, my son in Paris said it was time to go," he said. "Instead of resigning, I could have ordered my Defence Minister and Interior Minister to use force and disperse the demonstrations, but that would not have been true to myself. Love me or not, respect me or not, those people are all my children."

Mr Shevarnadze also dismissed reports that he was planning to go into exile in Germany. "Although I love Germany very much, my homeland is Georgia and I owe it to her to stay here," he told the German television station ZDF. "I am not thinking of coming to Germany."

In Tbilisi, Mr Shevardnadze's spokesman, Kakha Imnadze, said reports that he had already landed in Germany were untrue. "That's all nonsense," he said, adding that the deposed president was at his residence. His family said he had slept until noon. "I think he will be writing his memoirs," his daughter Manana Shevardnadze said.

Bela Anda, a spokesman for the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said yesterday that Mr Shevardnadze would be welcome in Germany.

He responded that he was "thankful for the invitation".