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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 January, 2004, 18:42 GMT
Georgia swears in new president
Mikhail Saakashvili at his swearing in
Many Georgians have high hopes for their new leader
The new president of the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, has been sworn in at a ceremony in the capital, Tbilisi.

As US and Russian foreign ministers looked on, he took the oath outside parliament where his supporters evicted President Shevardnadze two months ago.

Mr Saakashvili, a 36-year-old US trained lawyer won a landslide victory in elections after the peaceful revolt.

He has been invited to the US to meet President George W Bush next month.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was among the foreign dignitaries in Tbilisi for the ceremony, also declared that his country has no ambition for permanent military bases in Georgia.

He has said that a US mission to train and equip the Georgian security forces would not be extended beyond May.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, who is travelling with Mr Powell, says the question of US-Russian competition for influence is one of the most sensitive issues in relations with Georgia.

But Mr Powell also called on Moscow - where he is having talks on Monday - to live up to its commitment to withdraw its troops from the country.

Chaos and instability

Crowds had gathered and bands played outside the parliament building, which was draped with huge red and white Georgian flags.

Georgia will unite, Georgia will become strong and will restore its integrity
Mikhail Saakashvili

After swearing the oath with his hand on Georgia's constitution, Mr Saakashvili declared that integration with Europe was an aim, but that Georgia should also play its part on a world stage rather than depending on others.

"Our steady course is towards European integration. It is time Europe finally saw and valued Georgia and took steps towards us.

"It is time we Georgians did not depend only on others... it is time we asked what Georgia will do for the world," he said.

Mr Saakashvili won more than 96% of the vote on 4 January after leading the so-called Rose Revolution against the veteran leader, who had tried to rig parliamentary elections in November.

Known to Georgians as Misha, Mikhail Saakashvili first came to politics as a protege of Mr Shevardnadze, but he went into opposition, protesting against government corruption.

Correspondents say Georgians have enormous expectations of the new leader, who was elected after a decade of corruption, deepening poverty and separatist tensions.

Work together

Critics say Mr Saakashvili is young and untested as a leader, and fear he may not be able to turn from a revolutionary into an effective president.

Half of all Georgians live in poverty and most survive on earnings of about $50 a month.

Mikhail Saakashvili talks to Colin Powell
The US seeks warm ties with the new power in Georgia
Mr Saakashvili has called on Western nations to provide aid and investment. Otherwise, he says, Georgia could slide into chaos and become a major source of instability in a volatile region.

On the eve of his inauguration, Mr Saakashvili vowed to rebuild his fractured country as a strong and unified state.

At a symbolic ceremony watched by cheering crowds, the president-elect laid his hand on the tomb of King David - who united Georgia in the 12th century - at a monastery near Kutaisi, Georgia's second city.

"Standing at David's tomb, we must say Georgia will unite, Georgia will become strong and will restore its integrity," Mr Saakashvili said.

"I want all of us to do it together and I promise not to become a source of shame for you."

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"The new president is promising to transform this country"

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