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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 November 2007, 15:22 GMT
Georgian tycoon 'to contest poll'
Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili
Mr Patarkatsishvili is thought to be in Israel
Exiled tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili has said he will run in snap presidential elections called to quell an escalating crisis in Georgia.

Mr Patarkatsishvili - whom authorities accuse of plotting a coup - called the government "completely discredited".

His pledge came after government and opposition leaders met in Tbilisi for the first time since police broke up violent protests there on Wednesday.

The severity of the government response to the protests has shocked onlookers.

Despite President Mikhail Saakashvili's pledge to call a presidential poll on 5 January, a state of emergency remains in force banning public demonstrations and independent news broadcasts.

A high-level US state department official is expected to add his voice to European demands to lift the state of emergency when he arrives in Tbilisi on Saturday.

But President Saakashvili - who accuses Russian agents of destabilising the country, a charge which Moscow denies - has said it will remain in force as long as necessary.

Opposition 'surprised'

Mr Patarkatsishvili is an old foe of the government in Tbilisi.

He finances opposition parties and is the owner of Imedi television, which was taken off the air on Wednesday following the tough police crackdown on thousands of protesters.

The state of emergency will be lifted... not by somebody's recommendation, but when we find it necessary
President Mikhail Saakashvili

On Saturday, Mr Patarkatsishvili told Reuters news agency he would participate in January's elections, in a statement emailed from his location in exile, thought to be Israel.

""Mr Saakashvili's regime has completely discredited itself in the eyes of the Georgian people who will never again entrust it its destiny," the statement said.

Mr Patarkatsishvili's pledge reportedly surprised a 10-party opposition coalition which is trying to unite around a single candidate to challenge Mr Saakashvili.

"It's the first I have heard of this," opposition leader Tina Khidasheli told Reuters.

On Friday, Georgia's prosecutor general's office said Mr Patarkatsishvili was under criminal investigation for plotting a coup and he was wanted for questioning.

Pressure continues

Opposition parties have hailed the calling of the election on 5 January as a victory, but commentators caution that it presents them with the significant task of mounting a credible challenge to Mr Saakashvili in the space of a few weeks.

No opposition figure has emerged who could seriously challenge him in the presidential elections, says the BBC's Matthew Collin in Tbilisi.

Troops in Tbilisi
28 Sep: Thousands rally in Tbilisi against President Saakashvili after arrest of his former ally and ex-defence minister Irakli Okruashvili
2 Nov: About 50,000 attend anti-Saakashvili rally outside parliament, calling for early elections and for Mr Saakashvili to quit
7 Nov: Riot police use force to disperse protesters after six days of opposition rallies, Mr Saakashvili imposes state of emergency
8 Nov: Mr Saakashvili calls early elections for January
9 Nov: Parliament approves state of emergency decree

The leader of the opposition Republican party, Levan Berdzenishvili, told news agency AFP that discussions over candidatures would only begin after the state of emergency is lifted.

The emergency decree was passed by parliament on Friday, but opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.

The EU envoy to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, urged the state of emergency to be lifted "as soon as possible" on Saturday.

His calls are expected to be echoed by Matthew Bryza, US deputy assistant secretary of state, when he arrives on Saturday.

But Mr Saakashvili sounded a defiant note in a speech on Saturday, saying the decree would be lifted "when we deem it necessary".

Opposition leaders met a government representative, parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, for preparatory talks ahead of full negotiations set to begin on Saturday evening.

In addition to elections, opposition demands include bringing forward parliamentary elections, the reform of election rules, the release of jailed opposition figures and the resignation of the president.

Georgia to hold early elections
08 Nov 07 |  Europe
Profile: Mikhail Saakashvili
08 Nov 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Georgia
03 Nov 07 |  Country profiles
Q&A: Russian-Georgian ties
07 Aug 07 |  Europe

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