TBILISI (Reuters)–Georgia’s new leaders took charge on Monday–its interim president meeting influential security chiefs and telling a key minister to quit–after their self-styled "velvet revolution” toppled Eduard Shevardnadze.
Opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili–who led the protests which forced the former president to resign–kept a low profile for most of the day. He was due to hold a news conference later.
The US-educated lawyer has been tipped as a probable candidate to replace Shevardnadze–whose 11-year rule ended on Sunday after three weeks of turbulence in the Caucasus state.
Interim president Nino Burdzhanadze–meanwhile–called a meeting of the outgoing parliament on Tuesday to set a new date for a presidential election that must be held by early January. She will act as head of state until then.
The steely-eyed 39-year-old lawyer summoned military–police–and state security officials to get a fix on security issues– vital in a volatile state reeling from secessionist upheaval.
She showed her mettle by blasting State Minister Avtandil Dzhorbenadze for Georgia’s economic plight and a discredited election which led to Shevardnadze’s downfall.
"The State Minister is responsible for this economic crisis into which the country has been led and also for holding the November 2 parliamentary elections,” she told state television.
A senior economic adviser close to Burdzhanadze said Georgia would ask the United States–which has backed the new leadership–for $5 million to hold fresh elections.
OIL COMPANIES PROCEED
Developmen’s are being watched by Russia to the north–and by Western states seeking stability to safeguard a pipeline being built to take Caspian oil to the Mediterranean Sea.
Oil majors BP (BP.L) and Statoil (STL.OL) said the power change would not threaten their plans to build the pipeline.
Shevardnadze–a former Soviet foreign minister admired in the West for helping to end the Cold War–kept out of the limelight after an emotional night. He then slept–his family said–until noon.
A report from Germany said he had flown there–but this was quickly denied by his family. "I think he will be writing his memoirs. He has had a life full of events and he certainly has enough for one book,” his daughter Manana Shevardnadze said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin–who sent in his foreign minister to mediate the crisis–said he was concerned that Shevardnadze–75–had been ousted under the threat of force.
But he added that the overthrow followed "systemic errors in foreign–domestic and economic policy” under Shevardnadze–who has been involved in the top politics of the mountainous state for decades.
"Relations between Russia and Georgia in recent years had been quite difficult,” Putin said. "We assume the future legally elected leadership of the country will do everything possible to restore the tradition of friendship between our countries.”
Russia has two military bases in Georgia–which also borders Russia’s conflict-racked region Chechnya. US security advisers now work in Georgia as part of Washington’s "war on terror."
US Secretary of State Colin Powell called Burdzhanadze to offer support–the State Department said. Powell also spoke to Shevardnadze–and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher praised him for standing down "in the best interests of (Georgia’s) people.”
EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana had sent an envoy to Tbilisi to meet Burdzhanadze–a spokeswoman’said.