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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 17:35 GMT
Georgia remembers Rose Revolution
By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Tbilisi

Disabled man begging on the streets of Tbilisi
Poverty and unemployment remain the harsh reality of life in Georgia
As thousands of people gathered at the opening of a newly built cathedral in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on Tuesday morning, the talk was once again of a potential revolution.

Not in Georgia, but this time in Ukraine.

Throughout the day - a public holiday to mark Georgia's Rose Revolution - the live broadcast of the festivities was interrupted by coverage of the demonstrations in Kiev.

In the middle of his address to the nation, President Mikhail Saakashvili turned to Ukrainian.

"My brothers and sisters, dear brothers and sisters, I wish you success, peace, calm, justice and victory," he said.

Georgia has taken a keen interest in the Ukrainian elections.

Dozens of Georgian MPs went to Ukraine to observe the ballot.

Radical changes

The Ukrainian student movement Pora - Ukrainian for "It's Time" - is modelled on Georgia's Kmara - "Enough is Enough" - movement which played a crucial role in last year's bloodless coup.

Mr Saakashvili at a church service in Tbilisi on 23 November
We defied a lot of sceptics - I remember how some people were saying that this country will break up into five pieces
Georgian President Saakashvili

"Watching what's happening in Kiev is like deja-vu," said a 26-year-old nurse, Nata Kikandze.

"I really hope that Ukrainians will be able to achieve what we did last year."

The festivities are expected to go on late into the night but it is not likely to be anything like last year's party when the entire country celebrated the resignation of veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

Mr Shevardnadze ruled the country for nearly three decades until in 2003 his government claimed it had won a parliamentary election, sparking mass street protests.

For three weeks, the demonstrations grew bigger and bigger as thousands of people, fed up with the corruption, poverty and political stagnation of Mr Shevardnadze's regime demanded his resignation.

Then on 23 November, leading the crowd and holding a long-stemmed rose in his hand, Mr Saakashvili burst into the parliament.

Mr Shevardnadze, surrounded by his bodyguards fled the building, and symbolically, power.

It became known as the Rose Revolution.

Mr Saakashvili promised to clean up rampant corruption and lift Georgia out of the poverty and conflicts of the last decade.

What he delivered was a year of radical changes.

Dozens of former government officials have been jailed on corruption and embezzlement charges.

Defiance

Their assets were confiscated and their savings moved to state coffers.

Georgians celebrate the anniversary of the Rose Revolution
The revolution has sent Georgia on a new direction

A government campaign against smuggling and corruption has helped to nearly triple the country's budget and pay off pension and salary debts.

A notoriously corrupt police force has been replaced by new, mobile, American-style law enforcement.

"Frankly I expected some sort of crisis of confidence after six months in power," Mr Saakashvili told the BBC.

"We defied a lot of sceptics - I remember how some people were saying that this country will break up into five pieces. These inexperienced guys can't govern, corruption will thrive even further.

"I remember all of these bad expectations. None of them have come true."

But no matter how radical his reforms, for many in this impoverished country, life is as difficult as it was one year ago.

Pensions may be paid on time now, but they are still too low for survival.

Unemployment remains high and poverty, widespread.

Mr Saakashvili has succeeded in reigning in the renegade province of Ajaria but conflicts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia are far from resolved.

Georgia's embittered relationship with Russia is, in the president's own words, his biggest failure.

One year on, Mr Saakashvili's honeymoon is over and the hard work of delivering the promises he made is only just beginning.

Yet, as their country embarks on a new chapter, revellers gathered in the streets of Tbilisi say there is already cause for celebration.


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