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Georgian Opposition Leader Calls for Improved Ties with Russia (23.07.12)

The billionaire leader of Georgia's opposition coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has called for the normalization of relations between Tbilisi and Moscow which remain tense since the August 2008 war over South Ossetia.

Speaking during a demonstration of his Georgian Dream coalition supporters in the town of Gori, which was in the center of the 2008 conflict, Ivanishvili said he believed the time had come for Georgia to get along with Russia.

“Georgia’s Western orientation has no alternative, but no one has an opportunity to choose their neighbors,” the Georgian-born billionaire said.

“Our position towards Russia should be politically correct, but principled, unlike that of the current authorities who act without principles,” he added.

Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow remain sour since the five-day August 2008 war, following which Russia recognized the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, a move strongly opposed by Georgia and Western governments.

Ivanishvili, whose fortune has been estimated by Forbes at .5 billion, announced his intention in October last year to create a political party uniting "healthy" political forces in Georgia with the goal of achieving an absolute majority in the 2012 elections.

A French citizen, Ivanishvili is however banned from being a formal leader of a political party in Georgia as he does not have a Georgian passport.

The Georgian Parliament amended the country's constitution in May to allow EU citizens to participate in parliamentary and presidential elections in the country as voters and candidates, giving Ivanishvili an opportunity to stand as a candidate in the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections.

The Georgian Dream coalition led by Ivanishvili consists of five political parties - the Republican and Conservative parties, the National Forum, Our Georgia – Free Democrats, and a party called Industry Will Save Georgia.

Several thousand people took part in Sunday’s demonstration of Ivanishvili supporters, the latest in a series of similar marches held in several Georgian cities, including Tbilisi, over the past two months.