The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Family said time to go’

Tbilisi, Nov. 25 (Reuters): Fallen Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said yesterday he knew it was time to go, not when thousands of protesters took to the streets but when his wife and children told him so.

Looking tired, but still offering a wink and a smile to visitors, he said those who cheered his resignation on Sunday after weeks of Opposition protests might regret their actions.

“I watched them dance, sing and applaud... but I think in the morning they rethought and realised what has happened was serious,” he said in a slow, quiet voice.

But the 75-year-old said his resignation was no worse than when he quit as foreign minister in Soviet times, and it did not even rank highly in his worst moments.

Georgian protesters accused him of rigging elections this month and of gross misrule. But philosophical to the end, the grandfather of five said Sunday was just his time to leave, and made scant reference to any US or Russian pressure.

“My relations, my mother, daughter, my son in Paris said it was time to go,” he said at his residence. The walls are covered in portraits of him and photographs of him shaking hands or joking with former US President George Bush and the late French leader Francois Mitterrand.

Shevardnadze, who held sway in the mountainous Caucasus country for three decades, as a Communist official and later as President, said he could never have used force to disperse Opposition protests which after three weeks finally toppled him.

Many analysts and diplomats believe hawkish elements around the leader tried several times during the political crisis to persuade him to crack down on the Opposition who launched action over a disputed election.

“Yesterday, 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,” he said. “Love me or not, respect me or not, those people are all my children.”

He may have been a diplomatic master in the 1980s and early 1990s when he helped negotiate the end of the Iron Curtain, but said maybe this time his famed political instincts let him down.

“Maybe mistakes were made,” he said. “I didn’t give much significance to those young people who were running around with banners. But that’s not the issue. I thought that some time would pass and they would calm down, but I was wrong.”

He moved quickly from criticising the US for their election problems to telling Russian leader Vladimir Putin not to criticise others’ policies when he has yet to resolve his own domestic problems — namely Chechnya. Shevardnadze joked that yesterday was the first time he had ever been able to stay in bed until 11.00 am.

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