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Saakashvili Proposes Georgian Presidential Elections in January


Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has proposed new presidential elections January 5.

In a nationwide television address, Mr. Saakashvili said the vote will give the country's citizens the chance to decide on their leaders. He also pledged to lift within days the nationwide state of emergency he declared Wednesday, saying the situation is stabilizing.

Under the declaration, the government closed all independent news outlets.

Meanwhile, Georgia's opposition announced the suspension of anti-government protests in Tbilisi.

Opposition leaders describe Thursday's move as an attempt to avoid more violence, after nearly 600 protesters were injured in rioting Wednesday.

NATO has sharply criticized the state of emergency and independent media crackdown, saying they are "not in line with Euro-Atlantic values." Europe's top security organization, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged dialogue based on democratic principles.

The United States, France and Britain also issued statements of concern, while Moscow announced the expulsion of three Georgian diplomats in retaliation for the expulsion of three Russians on the embassy staff in Tbilisi.

Georgia's opposition held six days of protests accusing the president of corruption and demanding his resignation, elections and a curb on presidential powers.

In today's address, Mr. Saakashvili also called for a referendum on whether to hold parliamentary elections next April as demanded by the opposition or late next year as the government proposes.

The president has accused Russian special agents of stirring up trouble in Georgia. Russia calls the charges a provocation.

Mr. Saakashvili came to power in 2003 as the hero of the so-called Rose Revolution that peacefully toppled then-President Eduard Shevardnadze.

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