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Revolution’s driving force to fight elections

Tbilisi, Nov. 26 (Reuters): Georgia’s new leaders nominated Mikhail Saakashvili today as their sole candidate for presidential elections and the US-educated lawyer immediately said he expected to win.

The three main figures who brought down veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze put aside personal rivalries to settle on a single candidate for the January 4 poll, as they strove to save the country from economic catastrophe and internal turmoil.

“We made a decision that in future presidential elections we’ll have a single candidate... and this single candidate in the elections will be Mikhail Saakashvili,” interim President Nino Burdzhanadze told a parliament news conference to loud applause.

The hugely popular Saakashvili, driving force in the “people power” revolution that toppled Shevardnadze on Sunday night, immediately took the microphone to announce he was confident of victory.

“I am ready for our victory in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections,” he declared — a view shared by most commentators given his huge following.

Several other candidates were expected to stand, including some well-known fixtures on the Georgian political scene, commentators said.

But none enjoys anything like the mass approval of Saakashvili and the January 4 election was not expected to go to a run-off, they said.

“The revolution continues and will be over only when Georgia becomes happy, successful and fully formed,” he said, a reference to separatist tensions that plague the country. Earlier the IMF brought hope to Georgia, promising to be “helpful” to its new leaders as they struggle to avert economic chaos and get political life moving.

The west has been watching developments in Georgia closely because of plans to build a pipeline across its territory taking oil from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean Sea.

After fence-mending talks with Burdzhanadze, IMF country representative Jonathan Dunn said: “We look forward to working with the interim administration and the next administration. We will do our best to be helpful to Georgia in this period.”

He did not spell out any details of what precise steps the fund might take to help the small former Soviet country of 4.5 million people, with whom it fell out during the rule of former President Shevardnadze. The new leaders have made it clear they need western aid to help them turn round the fortunes of a country mired in poverty.

The IMF told the Shevardnadze administration it would not make loans to Georgia under a poverty reduction programme until it dealt with mass corruption and tax evasion.

Sources close to the Paris Club of state creditors said Georgia would have to patch up relations with the IMF before it has any chance of debt relief.

It has $1.78 billion in foreign debt including some $600 million owed to the Paris Club.

Given Saakashvili’s overwhelming popularity, Burdzhanadze clearly decided against running against him.

As speaker of the outgoing parliament, she took over automatically as acting President when Shevardnadze resigned and was every bit the public face of the revolution as Saakashvili, but simply cannot match his ratings.

The man he could replace, Shevardnadze, meanwhile, said nothing about whom he might back in the election.

“If I express any thoughts it would be bad. It’s not worth me being a trouble-maker,” he said as he cleared his personal effects from his old offices.

The January poll can be expected to be a tense affair with separatist and independent-minded regions boycotting.

These include Abkhazia, which unilaterally broke away in a bitter separatist war 10 years ago and South Ossetia, which has proclaimed itself a republic.

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