| People plant flowers near the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi. (AFP)
Tbilisi, Nov. 27 (Reuters): The Georgian with the best chance of succeeding toppled President Eduard Shevardnadze urged his countrymen yesterday to guard against a military coup.
Mikhail Saakashvili, 35, was the driving force in the “people power” revolution that brought down the veteran leader, 75, at the weekend. Hours after Georgia’s new leaders set aside rival ambitions to nominate Saakashvili as their candidate for a January 4 presidential election, he told Mze television: “There is always the possibility of counter-revolution and even of interference by external forces.”
Saakashvili urged security forces to guard against attempts at a coup.
“There are one or two officials in the army who are now saying... that a military junta should be established in Georgia and are planning something similar to a coup,” he told Rustavi-2 television without elaborating.
“I would certainly advise these people against not only doing it but even continuing such talk. They are wrong if they think that we will be weak and tolerant of such things.”
The three main figures who brought down Shevardnadze divided up key roles in their drive to spare the ex-Soviet republic in the heart of the Caucasus more economic hardship and turmoil.
Saakashvili was backed at a news conference in parliament by the two other main figures — acting President Nino Burdzhanadze and prominent Shevardnadze opponent Zurab Zhvania.
“I am ready for our victory in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections,” Saakashvili declared — a view shared by most commentators.
He seemed confident of winning against any rival. “The revolution continues and will be over only when Georgia becomes happy, successful and fully formed,” he said, referring to separatist tensions that have riven Georgia since the 1980s.
Burdzhanadze had earlier held fence-mending talks with the IMF country representative. The IMF had halted loans to the previous government pending moves on 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.
Saakashvili said experts from the IMF, World Bank and the US would arrive next Tuesday to discuss “elementary needs”.
In Washington, US National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said President George W. Bush telephoned Burdzhanadze from his Texas ranch, telling her he supported “Georgia’s programme of democratic and free-market reforms.”
Speaking at his home outside Tbilisi, Shevardnadze advised the team led by Saakashvili to avoid rash changes. “I would give him this piece of advice — to behave more calmly, to be fair, and not to allow any chaos in the country... don’t be in a hurry to make any personnel changes.”