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Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Georgia country profile

Map of Georgia

Situated at the strategically important crossroads where Europe meets Asia, Georgia has a unique and ancient cultural heritage, and is famed for its traditions of hospitality and cuisine.

Over the centuries, Georgia was the object of rivalry between Persia, Turkey and Russia, before being eventually annexed by Russia in the 19th century.

Since emerging from the collapsing Soviet Union as an independent state in 1991, Georgia has again become the arena of conflicting interests, this time between the US and a reviving Russia. Tense relations with Russia have been further exacerbated by Moscow's support for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Overview

Georgia's brief interlude of independence after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia ended when it was invaded by the Soviet Red Army in 1921 and incorporated into the Soviet Union a year later.

Old part of Tbilisi
Efforts are being made to restore the capital Tbilisi's historic centre

The US has a major strategic interest in the country, having invested heavily in an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey. The Georgian armed forces have been receiving US training and support.

Increasing US economic and political influence in the country has long been a source of concern for the Kremlin, as have Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and the EU.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi are never far from the surface and in August 2008 flared up into an armed conflict triggered by clashes between Georgian troops and South Ossetian separatist forces.

Post-Soviet years

Following the collapse of communism in the USSR in 1991, Georgians voted overwhelmingly for the restoration of independence and elected nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia as president. However, Gamsakhurdia was soon overthrown by opposition militias which in 1992 installed former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze as the country's new leader.

During his 11 years in office, the Georgian people felt increasingly at the mercy of poverty, corruption and crime. He was ousted in November 2003 following mass demonstrations over the conduct of parliamentary elections.

Bomb damage in the Georgian city of Gori after a Russian air raid in August 2008
Conflict over Georgia's separatist regions led to war with Russia in 2008

Once a relatively affluent part of the USSR, with independence Georgia lost the cheap energy to which it had access in the Soviet period. As relations between Georgia and Russia deteriorated, Moscow did not flinch from tightening the economic screws, and the rupturing of trading ties caused the Georgian economy to nose-dive.

Georgia has been heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supply. Like some other republics of the former Soviet Union, it saw the price of gas supplied by the Russian gas giant Gazprom rise sharply in January 2006. Gazprom has since doubled the price again. It is no coincidence that Georgia has started receiving an increasing proportion of its gas from Azerbaijan.

Breakaway regions

Since independence, the people of Georgia have endured periods of civil war and unrest as well as violence related to the independence aspirations of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both regions had close ties with Moscow, which in August 2008 announced it was formally recognising their independence.

Russian troops had operated there since the early 1990s, and were regularly accused by Georgia of siding with the separatists.

Facts

  • Full name: Georgia
  • Population: 4.3 million (UN, 2011)
  • Capital: Tbilisi
  • Area: 69,700 sq km (26,911 sq miles)
  • Major language: Georgian, Russian widely spoken
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 77 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 lari = 100 tetri
  • Main exports: Scrap metal, wine, fruit
  • GNI per capita: US $2,690 (World Bank, 2010)
  • Internet domain: .ge
  • International dialling code: +995

Leaders

President: Mikhail Saakashvili

Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president in January 2004, and won a second term in an early election in January 2008, called in response to opposition protests.

Mikhail Saakashvili
President Saakashvili has pursued a strongly pro-Western course

In 2004, Mr Saakashvili led the ''Rose Revolution'' protests which forced his predecessor as president, Eduard Shevardnadze, to resign, riding a wave of popular anger at a parliamentary rigged election. He won an overwhelming majority in the subsequent presidential election.

However, in 2007, he was widely criticised for using riot police to disperse a wave of mass protests demanding elections triggered by allegations of corruption and complicity in murder. He responded by bringing forward presidential elections to January 2008, which he won in the first round.

The conflict with Russia in August 2008 led many Georgians previously critical of Mr Saakashvili to rally behind him, but later criticism of his role in starting the conflict mounted, and several opposition mass rallies were held demanding that he step down.

In October 2010, parliament passed constitutional changes curbing the power of the presidency, and boosting those of the PM.

The government said the reforms would make Georgia more democratic, but the opposition accused Mr Saakashvili of planning to stay on as a powerful PM once his second presidential term ends in 2013.

In what was seen as a serious challenge to Mr Saakashvili's power, one of Georgia's richest men, Bidzina Ivanishvili, announced in October 2011 that he was forming a political party and would contest parliamentary elections.

Mr Saakashvili's party accused Mr Ivanishvili of serving Russian interests, and a week later, the authorities cancelled the tycoon's Georgian citizenship, saying it had lost it when he aqcuired French citizenship in 2001. Mr Ivanishvili accused the government of "settling political scores".

Mr Saakashvili was initially a protégé of Mr Shevardnadze, but a high-profile anti-corruption drive by Mr Saakashvili - then justice minister - sparked a major public row between the two in 2000.

On becoming president Mr Saakashvili vowed to restore Georgia's territorial integrity by returning its breakaway regions to the fold, and take Georgia into Nato and the EU.

Born in Tbilisi in 1967, Mr Saakashvili trained as a lawyer in the US and other countries, and became an MP in 1995. He speaks several languages, including fluent English.

Prime Minister: Nikoloz "Nika" Gilauri

A business manager and long-serving minister, Nika Gilauri became prime minister in February 2009. He succeeded Grigol Mgaloblishvili, who resigned on health grounds after only three months in office.

Nika Gilauri
PM Gilauri has sought to deregulate Georgia's economy

Born in Tbilisi in 1975, Mr Gilauri studied business and finance in Ireland and the United States, and worked as a manager abroad and in Georgia.

He joined the government as energy minister in 2004, after the election of President Mikhail Saakashvili, and went on to negotiate major gas supply deals with Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey.

He took over as finance minister in September 2007, combining the job with the newly-created post of first deputy prime minister in Mr Mgaloblishvili's government from November 2008.

Mr Gilauri said that his priorities would be to tackle unemployment, further democracy and work to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Georgian control. He repeated previous governments' commitment to Georgia's integration with NATO.

His first major step was to dismiss Kakha Bendukidze, an entrepreneur who made a fortune in Russia in the 1990s and later spearheaded Georgia's privatisation drive, as head of the Georgian State Chancellery.

Mr Bendukidze's role in the deregulation of the Georgian economy had made him a regular target of opposition criticism and had also brought him into conflict with Mr Gilauri.

Media

Television is the main source of news and accounts for the lion's share of the advertising market. There are dozens of cable operators and a handful of major commercial stations. Newspaper readership is generally low.

Government-funded Georgian Public Broadcasting has replaced the former state radio and TV. The state has relinquished other media assets, including newspapers and a news agency.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, and journalists often criticize officials. US-based Freedom House says the media environment is highly politicised. The main national TVs tend to back the government, while a handful of stations with relatively limited reach regularly criticise the authorities.

There were some 1.3m internet users by June 2010 (Internetworldstats). The armed conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 saw attacks on web-based assets belonging to both sides.

The press

Television

Radio

  • Georgian Public Radio - operates two networks
  • Radio Imedi - private, national news and speech network
  • Fortuna FM - private, music-based
  • Mtsvane Talgha (Green Wave) - national network linked to non-governmental organisations

News agencies/internet



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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

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