A leading international research group says Georgia must implement urgent reforms, if the government is to survive the global economic downturn and public discontent over its failed conflict with Russia.

The International Crisis Group, in a report, says President Mikheil Saakashvili's position is now secure. 

But it says his standing will be "severely tested" in the months ahead, as the opposition continues asking "pointed questions" about Georgian government decisions ahead of Russia's devastating military invasion in August.

The report urges the Saakashvili government to restore political stability necessary to encourage foreign investment and development.  It also says Tbilisi must provide more social assistance, ensure an independent judiciary and increase freedoms for the broadcast news media.  Additionally, it calls on the government to eliminate high-level corruption and implement what it calls "vital changes" to the electoral process.

The Saakashvili government came under harsh criticism this week, for faulty decisions that a top ex-diplomat says triggered the Russian invasion August 7.

Envoy Erosi Kitsmarishvili said the Georgian leader misread U.S. messages of support earlier this year as an endorsement for the use of force to regain control of the country's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from separatists.  The diplomat served as Georgia's ambassador to Moscow in the months before the Georgia-Russia conflict.

Kitsmarishvili also told a parliamentary panel that Georgia was planning to invade South Ossetia as early as April, and that President Saakashvili discussed such an attack in 2004.  Wednesday, the office of the president issued a statement denying the accusations.

The president is scheduled to testify before a parliamentary panel Friday on decision-making linked to the conflict. 


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