Mikheil Saakashvili, in his inauguration speech, said he was the leader of “not only one party, but of the entire nation”. His address, in what amounted to an appeal to the opposition, however, fell largely on deaf ears. As he spoke, protesters were amassing a few kilometres away to demonstrate against what they consider a falsified election.
Saakashvili began his speech by confirming he had taken his “last presidential oath.” He then described the January 5 election as a victory of the entire country.
“Two weeks ago the election was held, which was assessed by the entire world as the most competitive in Georgia’s history,” Saakashvili said. “You have chosen a united Georgia, a Georgia without poverty… We have confirmed that Georgia’s democracy is developing. This election has produced one winner – the Georgian people and we all share this victory.”
He then thanked “all the presidential candidates running in this election,” specifically because of their commitment to a developed and democratic Georgia.
“I want to thank the opposition,” Saakashvili said, “because there is no freedom without dissenting opinion… We share a common love of Georgia and a devotion to democracy. I very much appreciate your [referring to the opposition] contribution to democracy… The goals that unite us are much more important than disagreements that may separate us.”
Saakashvili also thanked “journalists, human rights activists and civil society representatives.”
He then said that he was committed “to securing the opposition’s solid participation in political processes.”
Saakashvili did not, as he has done in many recent speeches, invite the opposition to participate in government. He did, however, propose the establishment of a “national commission to overcome poverty” and said he hoped “to see the opposition” take part.
“In 50 days we will have a detailed action plan on how to achieve Georgia without poverty [Saakashvili’s pre-election slogan],” he said. “In April we will have a detailed timeframe on increasing the minimum [monthly] pension to USD 100.”
“Our priority in the last four years was to break the chains restraining the country’s development. The next four years will be dedicated to letting freedom enter every Georgian family, further strengthening democracy and defeating poverty. The welfare of every family will be the top priority of the reshuffled Georgian government, which I will present in the coming few days.”
He also said that a strong Georgian state depended on “a solid opposition,” a strong judiciary and army and active civil society. “Strengthening democratic institutions will be my priority,” Saakashvili said. “We are building democracy for the entire Georgian society and not only for one part.”
On foreign policy, Saakashvili said that Georgia wanted “to build bridges with the north, south, west and east.”
“Our harbor is Europe,” he added. “At the same time we have much in common with the east.”
“We will continue to move, with even firmer steps, towards NATO,” Saakashvili said. “The Georgian people have expressed their firm North-Atlantic aspirations [in the January 5 plebiscite]. This aspiration is not against any of our neighbors' interests, nor is it aimed at alienating any of our neighbors. We should stretch out the hand of cooperation to Russia. We should be friends, we should be closer.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov headed one of 16 official foreign delegations at the inauguration ceremony. Other foreign guests included the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania; foreign ministers from Sweden and Armenia; parliamentary speakers from the Czech Republic and Turkmenistan; the prime ministers of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan; the deputy premier of Ukraine; the U.S. Secretary of Commerce; the French minister for agriculture; British, NATO and EU special representatives for the South Caucasus.
A military parade was held after the inauguration. About 2,500 servicemen, armed with newly purchased U.S.-manufactured M4 Carbine assault rifles marched on Rustaveli Avenue. Ten BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, 10 Interior Ministry light armored vehicles; seven DANA artillery pieces and six GRAD-type multiple rocket launchers featured in the parade. Four UH-1 Iroquois and four MI-24 helicopters, as well as three L-39 and six SU-25 aircraft flew overhead.
The ceremony was opened by Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze, who had been the acting President since November 25.
“We have demonstrated to the entire world that Georgia is a democratic state and that we have the capacity to maintain stability and democracy… I hope the newly elected president will unite Georgia,” Burjanadze said.
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