Georgia to remain pro-Western: Saakashvili

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Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Friday that he wanted talks with his "enemy" Moscow, but his country would not abandon its pro-Western orientation or accept Russian troops on its territory.

"We will never give up the Georgian people's choice, Euro-Atlantic integration," Saakashvili said during his annual address to the ex-Soviet republic's parliament.

"We are ready for and want a dialogue with Russia, but we will never accept our country's partition and occupation," he said -- a reference to the permanent stationing of Russian forces in Georgia's rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the war with Russia in 2008.

Saakashvili said that a "strong enemy" was threatening his country's independence, after Moscow recognised the two breakaway regions as independent states in the wake of the war.

The Kremlin has refused any dialogue with the Georgian authorities while Saakashvili remains in office.

The Georgian leader's address to parliament largely focused on economic issues, defending his administration's record over the past year amid rising inflation, reduced foreign investment and continuing problems with poverty and unemployment.

Saakashvili spoke emotionally about the severe impact of price rises on ordinary people's living standards, promising that the government was implementing social programmes including new food and electricity vouchers to ease the hardship.

"I will do my best to bring back hope," he said.

He also vowed to continue his high-profile fight against corruption and tackle trade monopolies which have been harming the economy.

In a move seemingly intended to highlight his empathy with people's living conditions, Saakashvili also directly addressed groups of ordinary Georgians who had been specially brought into the parliamentary chamber for the speech.

© 2011 AFP

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