Georgia: opposition names Saakashvili challenger

Georgia's united opposition has named parliamentary deputy Levan Gachechiladze as their candidate for January's presidential election. President Mikhail Saakashvili announced the early election on Wednesday, after anti-government protests in the capital T

Several others, including businessman Badar Patarkatsishvili, have announced plans to run in the early polls.

The presidential election is scheduled for January 5 and President Saakashvili will have to resign 45 days before the polls, which will be on November 22.  

Levan Gachechiladze is an independent MP who doesn’t belong to any party.

The united opposition is made up of nine opposition parties ranging from the moderate liberal pro-Western to the rabidly nationalist and fundamentalist Christian. Thus Gachechiladze can be seen as a compromise candidate.  

The named candidate used to be a businessman and set up a successful winery. Also, Levan Gachechiladze founded an opposition party ‘The New Rights’ which he  later left. The party now has its own presidential candidate, the party’s incumbent leader, entrepreneur and politician David Gamkrelidze.  

The united opposition say that if Levan Gachechiladze wins the election, the first thing he’ll do is call a referendum to change Georgia into a parliamentary system, appoint Salome Zurabishvili, a former Foreign Minister and the leader of the Georgia's Way Party, as Prime Minister and then he will retire from politics.

Political analyst Aleksey Pushkovsays the fact that the opposition has come up with a candidate shows they're more united than was anticipated.

“The opposition has done better than it was expected to because there were a lot of predictions that the coalition would be dispersed, that they are very different political forces and they would not be able to find a single candidate at all. The fact that they have is already a challenge to Saakashvili, and it shows that the opposition is more united than we thought,” he underscored.

Tensions mount between Russia and Georgia

Meanwhile, three diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Georgia are returning to Moscow. Georgia demanded the diplomats be expelled after accusing Russia of being behind the country's recent unrest – a charge Moscow has dismissed.

In response, Russia has expelled three Georgian diplomats, and the Russian FM, Sergey Lavrov, said these latest developments could damage the relationship between the two countries.

The diplomats left Georgia via Yerevan as there are no direct flights between Georgia and Russia.

One of them admitted that he had really been in contact with the Gamsakhurdia family, whose youngest son is wanted by Georgia for plotting a coup. But the Russian diplomat stressed that they'd just spoken about family matters.

Officials promise fair election

Meanwhile, Georgia's government is also to hold a second round of talks with the opposition on lifting the current state of emergency. The first talks took place on Saturday.
 
Officials promised to do everything to guarantee a fair presidential election, which is scheduled for January 5.
 
The state of emergency was imposed after government troops and anti-government demonstrators clashed violently in the capital Tbilisi.  The crackdown includes a ban on independent news broadcasts and public gatherings.

Still, the opposition is able to use other sources of media, like newspapers and the Internet, and some very critical editorials have appeared in the newspapers over the last few days.
 
The state of emergency is expected to be lifted soon, maybe even on Monday.

U.S. says media ban should be lifted

Washington has issued a list of demands to the Georgian government.  It is calling for the state of emergency to be lifted, an end to the ban on independent media broadcasts, and assurances that January's presidential elections will be free and fair. 

Arriving in the capital Tbilisi, U.S. State Department Under-Secretary Matthew Braiza said he had a “message” from Condoleezza Rice. 

He said the U.S. has “suggestions to restore momentum for democratic reform” in Georgia.

 He also urged Georgia to make sure January's elections “are seen as fully free and fair”