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US Sending Envoy to Georgia to Discuss Emergency Rule

The United States is sending a senior diplomat to Georgia to press for an immediate end to the state of emergency imposed this week by President Mikhail Saakashvili. U.S. envoy Matthew Bryza will meet with figures in both the Georgian government and the political opposition over the next several days. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The dispatch of Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, underlines U.S. concern about the move to emergency rule in Georgia, which drew expressions of both surprise and disappointment in Washington.

President Saakashvili declared emergency powers Wednesday after clashes between security forces and opposition protestors in Tbilisi that injured several hundred people.

In a gesture to the opposition, the American-educated Georgian leader said Thursday he would move up a presidential election planned for late next year to January 5th and also hold a referendum on having an early parliamentary vote.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack welcomed the election decisions, but expressed disappointment that there apparently will not be an early end to the state of emergency.

"We're quite disappointed by the actions that President Saakashvili took in imposing a state of emergency. We're disappointed by the fact that the parliament voted to ratify his decision to extend it to 15 days, vice two days. Our clear message is that the state of emergency should be lifted immediately, that the government should follow-through on its promises and its decision to hold elections, as well as to hold a dialogue on the prospect of parliamentary elections," he said.

McCormack said Bryza, the State Department's policy chief for the Caucuses region, will press Georgian authorities to lift emergency curbs on the media, and to engage in a serious discussion with the opposition on ways to strengthen the country's democratic institutions.

The United States has forged close ties with President Saakashvili since he came to power in the former Soviet republic in 2003 after mass protests against his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze.

It has backed the Saakashvili government in political skirmishes with Moscow over the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia retains heavy influence.

But Mr. Saakasvili's rigid governing style has drawn wide criticism from abroad, and Western governments and human rights groups have said the use of force in quelling this week's protests was disproportionate.

Spokesman McCormack suggested Friday the emergency crackdown could undermine the Georgian government's aspirations to join NATO, noting that alliance decisions are made by consensus and that a record of democratic governance is a key condition for a would-be member state.