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Georgian President Saakashvili Proposes Early Presidential Election, Talks with Russia

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says he will propose holding the country's presidential election one year early so it coincides with the next parliamentary vote in 2008.

Mr. Saakashvili said late Thursday he intends to formally submit his rescheduling plan to parliament Friday. The president says he thinks it would be best for Georgian voters to choose the president and parliament at the same time.

Now, Georgia's constitution mandates that presidents serve a five-year term and lawmakers serve four years.

If the change is approved, Mr. Saakashvili's term would be cut short by eight months and he would face re-election in 2008 rather than 2009.

On another issue, President Saakashvili said Georgia is ready for talks with Russia any time to discuss recent tensions between the two countries.

The Georgian and Russian leaders will have an opportunity to meet at the Commonwealth of Independent States summit next month in Belarus.

Tensions between Georgia and Russia increased sharply after the Georgians last month arrested four Russian military officers in Tbilisi on espionage charges. Moscow strongly denies the accusations. The Kremlin subsequently cut transport and postal links with Georgia and began deporting Georgians who it said are migrants engaged in illegal activity.

Georgia also accuses Russian peacekeepers of backing pro-Russian separatists in two breakaway regions that declared independence after fighting in the early 1990s. Georgia vows to bring both Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under its control.

President Saakashvili took office in January 2004 following pro-democracy street protests. The peaceful movement, dubbed the "Rose Revolution," forced former authoritarian leader Eduard Shevardnadze from office. Since then Mr. Saakashvili has steered the former Soviet republic toward membership in the European Union and NATO.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.