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Saakashvili to confront single opposition candidate

Georgia's opposition parties say they will present a single presidential candidate after Mikhail Saakashvili announced there'll be an early vote in January.

He says he wants a fresh mandate from the Georgian people. Saakashvili added that there would be a parallel referendum to let the nation decide on the date of parliamentary elections.

One of the most influential political leaders in Georgia, Georgy Haindrava says the opposition will find a single candidate for the early presidential election to be held on January 5.

According to election procedure, Saakashvili will have to resign and hand over the presidency to Nino Burdzhanadze, with the presidential election to be held within 45 days.

Already some candidates have declared their participation. Gia Maisashvili of the very recently-formed Party of the Future is one.

He was Saakashvili's former economic adviser, but split with him shortly after he became President. His chances are seen as fairly unrealistic.

Also in the frame is David Gamkrelidze of the New Right Party, which is not a member of 10-party opposition coalition.

Together with Saakashvili and the single opposition candidate yet to be announced, this brings the current total of candidates to four.

As for the single opposition candidate, Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party would not be eligible as she is under the minimum age of 35 required to run for presidency.

Meanwhile, Salome Zurabishvili, a former Foreign Minister and the leader of the Georgia's Way Party has not lived in Georgia for the required 15 years, so would also be ineligible.

This gives the leader of the Republican Party, David Usupashvili a chance, although he probably lacks the necessary high profile and charisma to run.

Another possible candidate is Levan Berdzenishvili, a Republican MP.

If no candidate gains 50% of votes in the first round, there will be another one two weeks later. If the turnout is less than 50% of those registered to vote, there will be a fresh election in two months.

So Georgia could well enter a long period of political instability resembling that in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Georgian Parliament is considering whether President Saakashvili was right to impose a nationwide state of emergency.

According to RT's correspondent in Tbilisi, life seems to be basically back to normal, except for the media restrictions.

Seeking support of church

Georgian opposition leaders and the speaker of the county's Parliament have held separate talks with the Patriarch of Georgia.

After her meeting with Ilya II, Parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze said she appreciated his efforts in arranging dialogue between the authorities and the opposition.

Almost all the opposition leaders also took part in the meeting with the patriarch, except for the leaders of the Georgian Labour and Freedom parties.

They have fled the country after being accused of spying for Russian special services and planning a coup.

Opposition harassed

Georgia's Prosecutor General's Office has accused businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili of trying to forcefully overthrow the government.

The man is in London at the moment and the prosecution will be looking forward to bringing him back into the country.

In another development, two opposition leaders have been accused of plotting a coup with Russian embassy staff. Legal proceedings have been launched against Labour Party leader Shalva Natelashvili and Konstantin Gamsakhurdiya of the Freedom party. It's reported both men have fled the country.

Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition People's Party, Koba Davitashvili, claims he was beaten up in Tbilisi by seven plainclothes policemen. He adds that he was forcibly taken to another town 60 kilometres from Georgian capital and put in an intensive care unit against his will. According to Davitashvili he then contacted the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Nino Burdjanadze, who ordered his release.

Opinions in Georgia

Some Georgian opposition leaders have welcomed Saakashvili's announcement about holding early presidential elections, calling it a victory.

One of Georgia's Republican Party leaders, Tina Khidasheli, is predicting Saakashvili will lose the election.

“Mr Saakashvili has no chance of being the leader who defeated this nation and this people,” Ms Khidasheli said.

Political analysts in Tbilisi say the decision to hold early presidential elections is a considered step. They believe it could win Saakashvili a second term as head of state. Analysts claim that the opposition could win the election if only they could agree on a single candidate to confront Saakashvili, but the experts are not sure that the President's opponents will have enough time to prepare.

One of them, Archil Gegeshidze, said January 5 is not far away. He said candidates wishing to agains Saakashvili don't have much time to prepare psychologically for the battle ahead.

“I think it gives them guarantees to be re-elected for the second term. And also the most important bone of contention these days is the date of the parliamentary election. This problem will also be solved,” Mr Gegeshidze said.

Political analyst Tatyana Malkina has a similar position: “There is no way they [the Georgian opposition] can seriously prepare for a presidential or parliamentary election in two months,” she said.

Information vacuum

Imedi TV presenter in the studio suddenly   
             announced there were riot police and special   
             forces in the building
Imedi TV presenter in the studio suddenly announced there were riot police and special forces in the building

At the height of Wednesday's violence, authorities shut down the independent Imedi TV channel.

Andrew Butcher is the senior vice-president of News Corporation, which owns Imedi. He said he was “shocked and horrified” by what had happened.

“We have businesses on five continents and never have we had a violent incursion by government troops into one of our buildings and our staff beaten up by government offices,” Mr Butcher said.

Georgian residents are complaining about the lack of sources of independent information. It's not clear whether the information blackout will end when the state of emergency is lifted.

The International Federation of Journalists has condemned the imposition of censorship and a ban on media in Georgia. Leading Russian journalists have also asked Mikhail Saakashvili to allow the independent mass media to resume their work.

All Georgian TV and radio except for the public broadcaster have been forbidden from reporting news under the state of emergency imposed on Wednesday.

Cable TV in Tbilisi has resumed the broadcast of Russian channels.