Georgia's Saakashvili sworn in
“I, the Georgian President, do state before the nation and God that I will defend the constitution of Georgia, the country's independence, unity and indivisibility.”
With these words, Mikhail Saakashvili was sworn in as President of Georgia for his second and final term.
Dozens of foreign signatories attended the ceremony on Tbilisi’s central street. It was followed by a military parade.
Saakashvili extends a hand of friendship
Among the overseas visitors was Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He met privately with Saakashvili, and said his trip to Georgia marked an important step in the development of Russian-Georgian relations, which are now severely strained.
“There are problems. And they are well-known. I won’t go into details. I’ll just say that Russia believes it’s necessary to translate statements about readiness to normalize relations into concrete actions,” Lavrov said.
“We agreed to try to implement such concrete steps in the near future. I think it’s realistic,” he said.
In his inauguration speech, Saakashvili extended the hand of friendship to Russia, and said he hoped that Georgia and Russia would stand together as neighbours and partners.
Sergey Lavrov also met with the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II and said Russia is interested in regulating conflicts in the region.
“Ossetians and Abkhazians have to feel the willingness of the Georgian government to see them as a part of their state and to ensure their rights – that's what we’ve been discussing with our Georgian colleagues. Russia is genuinely interested in regulating these conflicts in order to ensure the legal rights of all the parties involved. We will sincerely fulfill this mission as a contributing party,” said Lavrov.
“The stakes are high. We will do our utmost to eliminate any provocative acts or armed attacks,” the Russian Foreign Minister said.
Mass protest rally
As ceremonial affairs were underway in the centre of Tbilisi, tens of thousands of opposition supporters gathered in the city's hippodrome, several kilometres away.
The opposition say the election was rigged to prevent Saakashvili from facing a second round against their candidate Levan Gachechiladze.
“These people do not recognise Saakashvili as President. Saakashvili is an illegitimate president for them,” Gachechiladze, the opposition leader said.
With a parliamentary election due in just a few months, the opposition hopes to turn this popular discontent into votes.
The government has been much more conciliatory towards the opposition lately, with Saakashvili even offering them places in his future government. But some opposition leaders say they will never back down.