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Georgia's Leadership Warns of Economic Collapse, Without Western Aid - 2003-11-28


Georgia's new leadership is warning of possible economic collapse unless the country gets economic aid from the West. But on the streets of Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, locals and businessmen are still trying their best to make a living.

A 70-year-old woman spends 11 hours on her feet each day in the dirty streets of Tbilisi selling handmade socks for two laris, or roughly $1, a pair.

"I am poor," she says. "That is why I sell these socks. And of course I cannot live on this money."

Especially difficult she says is the fact that this money must support her and her two grandchildren, who are students and do not work.

She says she was a pensioner under Georgia's recently ousted president, Eduard Shevardnadze, and that she will still be a pensioner under Georgia's new president after elections that are scheduled for January.

But she says she hopes the change in leadership will bring peace and stability to Georgia so that the economy will improve and pensions can eventually be paid.

She says she has not received her pension of roughly $6 for three months. She earned the pension after 45 years of work as a rural librarian.

Close by, a middle-aged woman who is selling small paintings and souvenirs at an outdoor market says the recent opposition protests put a real dent in her business. But she says the loss of money doesn't matter.

The vendor says she gladly closed down a few days in order to take part in the protests. She says the prospect of getting a new government is far more valuable to her than any money she might have made.

A few meters down the street stands a young flower vendor hawking yellow and white daisies and spider mums.

Not a rose was to be found among the display. Asked whether she had sold out, she replied, no. She said she does not even sell roses because she says they are far too expensive and that none of her customers would buy them.

She says a single rose cost two Georgian laris, or the equivalent of $1, and that for the same amount of money a customer could buy three or four of another type of flower.

She then smiled and added that if she did carry roses, she would never sell them.

She says she would give them away as presents in celebration of Georgia's rose revolution, named for its peaceful nature.

The man who led the street protests that resulted in President Shevardnadze's resignation, Mikhail Saakashvili of the National Movement, has promised that, if elected, he would propose a ban of at least one year on taxes for small businesses in order to help them grow. This proposal is a key part of his campaign platform as the leading candidate for the unified opposition.

This small business owner, who runs a wine shop on the main avenue near parliament, says he hopes Mr. Saakashvili will honor his pledge.

The man says he hopes the development of small business will take off in Georgia after the revolution, which unseated a government widely seen as corrupt.

He also hopes for a better tax system than the one operating under former President Shevardnadze, during which he says he had to either hide or hand over much of his profit.

Recent statistics estimate that more than half the Georgian population is unemployed and that the majority of people live in poverty, struggling to live on just $50 a month.

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