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Officials Ready to Declare Saakashvili Georgian President-Elect - 2004-01-08


Georgian election officials are expected Thursday to officially proclaim Mikhail Saakashvili the winner of Sunday's presidential vote. With nearly all the ballots counted, Mr. Saakashvili has won 96 percent of the vote. Only one of his five challengers took more than one percent. Inauguration day is January 25.

The White House says President Bush telephoned his congratulations to the incoming Georgian leader Wednesday. A spokesman said the president gave his support to Mr. Saakashvili's plans to fight corruption and carry out democratic and economic reforms.

A Georgian official said President Bush also invited Mr. Saakashvili to visit the United States, where he attended law school in New York. The official says Mr. Saakashvili also spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Saakashvili has said fighting corruption is his top priority. He accused the previous government of Eduard Shevardnadze of stealing nearly $2 billion in foreign aid and state funds -- destroying the Georgian economy and driving millions into poverty. He has asked foreign governments to freeze bank accounts of Mr. Shevardnadze and other former Georgian officials. The ex-president has not yet publicly responded to the charges of graft.

Mr. Saakashvili is also promising better ties with Russia and the West and to reopen talks with leaders of the breakaway Abkhazia republic.

Mr. Saakashvili led the popular uprising that forced Mr. Shevardnadze to resign in November after an apparently rigged parliamentary election.

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