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US Welcomes Commitment to Early Elections in Georgia

The United States Thursday welcomed Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's announcement of early presidential elections in January. But U.S. officials are calling for a complete roll-back of emergency measures declared by the Georgian leader earlier this week. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Georgian president's resort to emergency powers in the face of anti-government rioting came as a disappointment to senior U.S. diplomats who had established close ties with the American-educated leader.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack welcomed Mr. Saakashvili's commitments to advance the presidential election from the end of next year to January 5 and to hold a referendum on advancing parliamentary voting, moves seen as major concessions to the opposition.

However McCormack said the United States also wants to see an early return to full constitutional rule in the former Soviet republic.

"We continue to urge the government of Georgia to lift the state of emergency and restore all media broadcasts," said Sean McCormack. "These are necessary steps to restore the democratic conditions for the election and referendum. We call on all the parties to maintain calm, respect the rule of law, and address their differences through serious discussions to strengthen Georgia's democratic political system."

McCormack said reconciliation talks should take place in a spirit of compromise and in support of Georgia's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity - an apparent allusion to charges by Mr. Saakashvili and his supporters that this week's violent unrest in Tbilisi was being fomented by Russia.

The spokesman said the United States had no particular information to either substantiate or refute that notion but said meddling in Georgia by outsiders would be an unwelcome development.

Mr. Saakashvili has closely aligned himself with the United States since coming to power in 2003 as the hero of the so-called Rose Revolution that peacefully toppled then-president Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister.

The Bush administration has given the Saakashvili government diplomatic support in its efforts to reassert control over the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Moscow has heavy influence, and to forge ties with the European Union and NATO.

However Mr. Saakashvili's rigid governing style has drawn broad criticism, and Western governments and human rights groups have said his response to this week's demonstrations - in which hundreds of protesters were injured in clashes with police - was disproportionate.

Spokesman McCormack said under questioning it is too early for the Bush administration to be considering an aid cutback or other punitive action against the Saakashvili government, and that U.S. officials will look to see what it does in response to calls for an end to the state of emergency.

He said organizing a successful presidential election by early January is possible, but that it will require a concerted effort by Georgian authorities to assure an open campaign and an election that is transparent, fair and free from intimidation.