|Georgian leader calls on opponents to declare stand on Russia|
|February 27, 2012|
By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI, Feb 25 (Reuters) - President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Saturday Georgia would not give up its sovereignty for the sake of good relations with Russia and called on his opponents to declare their foreign policy openly before October elections.
His comments appeared to be a direct challenge to reclusive Georgian billionare Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has said he will contest the elections and has called for good relations with both Moscow and the West.
Relations between Russia and Georgia nose-dived after the "Rose Revolution" that brought Saakashvili to power in 2003, notably over his stated aim of taking Georgia into NATO.
War erupted in August 2008 when Russia crushed an assault by Georgia's U.S.-trained military on the pro-Russian rebel region of South Ossetia.
"Everyone wants to have better relations with Russia and I do want it too, but not at the expense of its own sovereignty, its own statehood," Saakashvili said during a speech at a military base in the town of Gori, a few kilometres from South Ossetia, where Russian troops have been stationed since the war.
Moscow has recognised South Ossetia as an independent state along with the other Georgian rebel region of Abkhazia.
"NATO and European Union are the only ways to strengthen Georgian statehood for our future generations," he said at a ceremony to mark the 91st anniversary of Georgia's occupation by the Red Army in 1921.
Saakashvili said Western countries, unlike Russia, looked at Georgia as a partner and not as a "slave". "Only those who are truly brave and free and who have strong allies, not masters, can get security guarantees," he said.
Saakashvili said his political opponents should explain their foreign policy priorities openly and clearly and not "sit on two chairs at once".
Saakashvili, 44, has faced down popular protests against his rule by opponents who accuse him of curbing freedoms in the
Political analysts say that as long as the opposition is fragmented, there is little threat to Saakashvili, whose term is due to end in 2013, or to his ruling party.
Ivanishvili has said he will form a party to run in this year's parliamentary elections. Authorities have stripped him of his citizenship on the grounds that he also holds French nationality.
Analysts say he may he pose some threat to the government, partly because of his huge resources and also for being untarnished by the political machinations of the past.
"It's very important that those political parties who plan to participate in election tell the truth to their people, as some of them hesitate over the main issue of our country's freedom and security," Saakashvili said.
"If you like (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin, if you trust him, or his vision of Russian-Georgian relationship is acceptable for you, say it loudly," Saakashvili said.
He added that he did not regard seeking Putin's support as a "good, moral or popular move, although it's legal in Georgia".
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Andrew Roche)
Copyright © 2012, Reuters
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