TBILISI, Georgia – Georgia's interim leader, in her first speech to the nation, pledged Monday to hold elections within 45 days, restored the old parliament and said she would repeal the state of emergency declared by longtime President Eduard Shevardnadze (search) before he was swept from power.
Nino Burdzhanadze (search), a key opposition figure swept into power by huge street protests against the ousted president, appealed to Georgia's people to cooperate with her government and reaffirmed her country's pro-Western stance.
"Order must be restored immediately not only in Tbilisi but also in all the regions of the country," she said in a nationally televised speech.
She also said she would repeal the state of emergency Shevardnaze had declared two days earlier, saying there was no need for it.
Life in Tbilisi appeared to be returning to normal Monday after a night of street parties, and only a few dozen stragglers remained outside parliament, the epicenter of the protests. Traffic flowed freely along Tbilisi's main Rustaveli avenue for the first time in days, with the bustle of a normal work week getting under way.
Shevardnadze resigned Sunday after a decade of mounting discontent and three weeks of protests over Nov. 2 parliamentary elections his critics said exemplified the corruption that has plagued the former Soviet republic during his reign.
After weeks of refusing to step down, in the end he said he was leaving office to avoid a bloodbath in a region steeped in violence. But by that time, some servicemen had joined the protesters and it was doubtful police and soldiers would have obeyed orders to use force.
Opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, head of the National Movement and the loudest voice in the anti-Shevardnadze protests, praised the outgoing president for "a courageous act" in stepping down.
Now after a rise of power astonishing for its speed and lack of bloodshed, the former opposition was underlining the need for stability.
The United States recognized Burdzhanadze as interim president. On Monday, the 39-year-old lawyer acted quickly to ensure the loyalty of the armed forces, convening a meeting with the country's top security officials.
The meeting included Tedo Dzhaparidze, the security council chairman fired by Shevardnadze after he publicly acknowledged electoral fraud and called for new elections. Conspicuously absent was Koba Narchemashvili, the interior minister who stood by Shevardnadze as he declared a state of emergency Saturday.
Georgia's former opposition leaders now face the grave challenge of maintaining unity and addressing the Caucasus nation's persistent corruption and poverty.
One complication will be the Revival party led by Aslan Abashidze, which vehemently opposes Saakashvili and which dominates the separatist Black Sea region of Adzharia.
A state of emergency was declared Sunday in Adzharia, the Interfax news agency said, and Georgian media reported that the region tightened security on its frontier with the rest of the country.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who mediated an end to the crisis in Tbilisi, passed through Adzharia en route back to Moscow, apparently to press Abashidze not to cause trouble. "The president of Adzharia has always played a very positive role in the interest of stability in Georgia," Ivanov said Monday.
Shevardnadze, meanwhile, remained at his residence on the outskirts of Tbilisi. He declined an invitation from Germany to live there, telling Germany's ZDF television: "Although I love Germany very much, my homeland is Georgia and I owe it to her to stay here."
Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) on Monday scathingly criticized Shevardnadze, who was foreign minister under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev but as Georgia's president had strained ties with Moscow. Putin blaming his downfall on "systemic mistakes in the domestic, foreign and economic policy."
Putin, whose foreign minister helped mediate a resolution to the crisis, held out hope a new Georgian president would work to mend ties with Russia.
Georgia sits astride a planned oil pipeline between the Caspian Sea and Western customers and is wedged between NATO-member Turkey and Russia. The country of 5 million people is of substantial strategic interest to both Washington and Moscow, which has bristled at U.S. aid to Tbilisi and the presence of U.S. troops in Georgia, training counter-terrorism forces.
In her speech, Burdzhanadze said that because of the rigged elections, the previous parliament — which she chaired — would resume its duties. She said the constitution required elections in 45 days, and confirmed that balloting for both the president and parliament would be held.
Burdzhanadze said that Georgia would do the utmost to maintain friendly relations with its neighbors, including Russia. She also reaffirmed the nation's pro-Western course pursued by Shevardnadze.
"Georgia will firmly continue to realize the foreign policy course that was chosen by the country from the first days of the restoration of its independence: the road to integration and the soonest joining of European and Euro-Atlantic structures," she said.
The Nov. 2 elections — which the opposition and the United States said were rigged — selected a new parliament dominated by pro-Shevardnadze lawmakers.
But when Shevardnadze tried to officially open the parliament on Saturday, hundreds of opposition backers swarmed into the chamber and took over the building. Shevardnadze was hustled out a back door by leather-jacketed bodyguards in a nationally televised scene that began the tense endgame of his confrontation with the opposition.
The next day, with tens of thousands in the streets of the capital, Saakashvili delivered the president an ultimatum: resign or the protesters would storm his house. Within about an hour, Shevardnadze's resignation was announced.