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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 13:35 GMT
Georgia keeps sights set on West
Acting Georgian President Nino Burjanadze
Burjanadze has assumed the presidency until fresh elections
Georgia's new interim leader has said her country will maintain its pro-West stance after the resignation of long-time leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

Acting President Nino Burjanadze said the country still aimed to join Nato and the EU as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, there was confusion over the location of Mr Shevardnadze after reports said he had landed in Germany.

But these were later retracted and aides said the ousted leader was at home in Tbilisi, "sleeping until noon".

In Georgia, life began to return to normal on Monday after three weeks of protest toppled Mr Shevardnadze in the wake of alleged fraud in parliamentary elections.

Scenes of jubilation ion the streets of Tbilisi

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in the capital Tbilisi said people were out shopping, and planting trees and bushes to replace those uprooted during unrest.

Ms Burjanadze praised the behaviour of the Georgian people over the past three weeks.

"We have managed to overcome the gravest crisis in Georgia's recent history without shedding a single drop of blood," she said.

She commended the police and army for standing "on the side of the people in these most difficult days".

The country's new leaders are expected to ask the US for $5m to fund fresh elections.

Russian concern

But Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed reservations about the way in which Mr Shevardnadze was forced from power.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (left) and former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze

"There is logical concern that the transfer of power in Georgia has taken place against a background of strong pressure of the use of force," Mr Putin said on state television on Monday.

"Those who organise and encourage such actions must assume their responsibilities before the Georgian people," he said.

Mr Shevardnadze is remembered warmly for his role in the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, says the BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin.

He was Soviet Foreign Minister under Mikhail Gorbachev and wrote a book about the experience which became a best-seller in Germany, our correspondent says.

Mr Putin's own foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, is believed to have played a key role in negotiating Mr Shevardnadze's resignation on Sunday.

He met Mr Shevardnadze and opposition leaders at the weekend before the resignation.

Tense relations

Russia and Georgia have had tense relations since Georgia became independent with the break-up of the Soviet Union.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Shevardnadze's resignation will occasion new uncertainties and upheavals, as struggles for movement and change are long and arduous, always unfolding within and producing relations of power
Erin Koch, New York

Russia accuses Georgia of harbouring Chechen militants, while Georgia accuses Moscow of backing separatist movements in the country.

Declaring an end to the disobedience campaign that forced Mr Shevardnadze out, Ms Burjanadze said the country must work to strengthen its ties with its neighbours and "the great state of Russia".

The US has developed strong interests in Georgia since its independence, as the main backer of a pipeline designed to bring oil from the Caspian sea to the West via Georgia.

Presidential powers

Ms Burjanadze said that presidential duties had passed to her in accordance with the constitution until elections are held within 45 days.

The country's new leaders also vowed to reopen negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, which cut ties with the cash-strapped country, citing corruption and failure to collect taxes.

MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI
Mikhail Saakashvili
Age 35, lawyer
Studied in US and France
Former head of Tbilisi council
2000: Appointed justice minister by Shevardnadze
2001: Quit government
2001: Formed United National Movement
Pro-Western, radical reformer

Wild, noisy celebrations lasted late into the night after Mr Shevardnadze resigned on Sunday.

"I feel really powerful - and happy," one beaming reveller told the BBC.

"We did what we wanted. This is our freedom," said another.

Georgia's political crisis came to a head on Saturday when opposition supporters - led by opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili - stormed parliament.

Mr Shevardnadze first declared a state of emergency, refusing to hand over power, but after talks with Russia's Mr Ivanov on Sunday agreed to resign his 10-year presidency.

Regional analyst Tom de Waal says that Mr Shevardnadze's resignation marks the end of the immediate crisis - but warned problems could lie ahead.

"We're now facing a group of inexperienced politicians coming to power on this wave of euphoria, but they're totally untested," Mr de Waal told the BBC's Newshour programme.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"Georgia is wasting no time putting its house back in order"



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