Source AP ©

Georgia's crisis to be resolved with presidential elections

Georgia’s Prime minister said Wednesday that he saw early presidential elections in Georgia the way to defuse a political crisis in the ex-Soviet republic.

Zurab Nogaideli was speaking at a a joint news conference in Turkey with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan following a meeting to discuss growing economic ties between the two neighboring countries.

The Georgian prime minister said the two had discussed the political situation in Georgia, where President Mikhail Saakashvili imposed a state of emergency Nov. 7 after squads of riot police violently dispersed a weeklong protest gathering.

The Jan. 5 elections will help Georgia "return to normal political life," Nogaideli told reporters.

In Georgia, the parliamentary speaker said the national state of emergency would be lifted Friday. The United States and other Western nations have strongly urged Saakashvili to quickly remove the measure, which has banned independent newscasts.

Saakashvili has previously accused Moscow of attempting to overthrow his government by staging the recent opposition protests, and said the crackdown was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos.

Stability in Georgia is of great strategic interest to the United States and Western Europe, both because a major oil pipeline supplying the West crosses the country and because it is a pocket of pro-Western sentiment adjacent to increasingly confrontational Russia.

Erdogan voiced support for Georgia's "political unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty" - in an apparent reference to a dispute between Georgia and Russia over Russian support for separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Turkey has close ties with Georgia and trade between the two has grown by 40 percent over the past year. Both are transit countries for oil and gas from the Caspian sea region.

Erdogan said the two countries were working on a free trade deal as well as a deal to prevent double taxation. Turkey was Georgia's No. 1 trading partner and bilateral trade will reach US$1 billion by the end of the year, the Turkish prime minister said.

Earlier this year, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan agreed to build a railway line linking the three to strengthen cooperation in the region.