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Georgian Leaders Stress Security


President Mikhail Saakashvili says Georgia's state of emergency will be lifted when the country is secure. The announcement comes as top Georgian government officials meet with the opposition to discuss ways to resolve their bitter political impasse. VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from Tbilisi.

In a televised meeting with businessmen, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he will lift the country's state of emergency based on the country's security needs, not because of recommendations by the foreign minister of another country.

The United States, the European Union and other countries have called on Mr. Saakashvili to quickly end emergency rule imposed after riot police used force to disperse anti-government protesters in Tbilisi on Wednesday.

Mr. Saakashvili's televised business meeting was broadcast as the opposition met with parliamentary Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, a key Saakashvili ally, who will become interim president 45 days before Georgia's January 5 presidential election. The president must resign by national law before the election.

David Isupashvili, leader of Georgia's Republican Party, says the opposition raised the issue of equal media access during the two-and-a-half hour meeting with Speaker Burdzhanadze. "If the emergency rules continue until the very day the president resigns, the president will actually have started his electoral campaign," said Isupashvili. "And you can see today, the only TV which broadcasts any political news is occupied with presidential speech for three hours. He had speech for one hour and a half, and then it is repeated right now."

Speaker Burdzhanadze downplays the issue, saying security is much more important than media access. "I hope you will agree there is no reason to have any campaign if something wrong will happen in the country," she said. "So the first priority is security and stability in the country, and the second priority, despite its importance, is to have normal possibility for election campaign."

Salome Zurabashvili, Georgia's ex-foreign minister and leader of the opposition Georgian Way party, told VOA the meeting did not solve any of the problems discussed at the meeting. They included an end to the state of emergency, restoration of independent media, and electoral reforms. "On some we are a bit further down the road than on others," said Zurabashvili. "I think the main positive thing is that after this first meeting we'll still meet."

Zurabashvili says the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, helped the government and opposition meet despite mutual animosities. Ilia met separately with both sides on Friday and organized a joint meeting Saturday.

Meanwhile, Georgian billionaire businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili has announced he will run in the January presidential election, but would step aside for any candidate that could unite the fractured opposition. Patarkatsishvili, however, is reported to be abroad and is also wanted by Georgian authorities in an alleged coup plot against President Saakashvili.

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