Mikhail Saakashvili has announced he's stepping down as Georgia's President so that he can run for a second term in office. He'll now take an active part in the election campaign ahead of the early vote in January.
Under Georgia's Constitution, the election must take place no more than 45 days after the President resigns.
Parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze will take over as acting president until the vote on January 5.
Eight candidates have announced they'll stand against President Saakashvili.
Originally, the vote was scheduled for next autumn. It was brought forward after police violently broke up political demonstrations in the capital Tbilisi earlier this month. A state of emergency followed and independent news reports were taken off air.
The news of Saakashvili's resignation was followed by a minor misunderstanding. Several sources reported that Saakashvili had resigned with immediate effect on Saturday.
Once Saakashvili steps down, Burdzhanadze will fill in until the election. She was also interim President in 2003.
Mikhail Saakashvili came to the world's attention during the non-violent Rose revolution in November 2003. He and his supporters forced the then Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze to step down.
Observers said the parliamentary election that followed was rigged. The party of Eduard Shevarnadze was declared the winner, but Mikhail Saakashvili disputed the result.
The opposition urged Georgians to protest with roses in their hands. The protesters broke into the parliament, interrupting the president's speech. He was forced to flee the building.
The next day Shevardnadze announced his resignation.
Two months later Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president, winning 95 per cent of the vote.
Saakashvili was born in 1967 in Tbilisi. He left school with a gold medal and graduated from the Institute of International Relations in Ukraine's capital Kiev.
From early on his career and life have been linked with the United States and Europe.
In the early 1990s Saakashvili was awarded a grant from the U.S. Congress to study in America. He took law degrees at Columbia University in New York and George Washington University.
In the mid-1990s he worked for a New York law firm specialising in energy projects in developing and CIS countries.
He entered politics in 1995 on the advice of Zurab Zhvania, an old friend from Georgia. At the time he was recruiting young and talented people to engage in politics on behalf of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Zhvania, who was prime minister under Saakashvili, died in 2005 in suspicious circumstances. Officials claimed carbon monoxide poisoning killed him.
Under Shevardnadze, Saakashvili was elected to the Georgian parliament. He chaired a committee for constitutional and law issues before becoming Georgia's Minister of Justice.
During his presidency, Saakashvili pursued a U.S.-oriented foreign policy with the goal of joining NATO and the European Union.
He promised to restore Georgia's integrity and settle conflicts with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, his term was marred by numerous clashes between Georgian troops and Russian peacekeepers stationed there.
An ardent critic of Russia, he managed to achieve the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia ahead of schedule.
However, from the glory days of the Rose Revolution, Saakashvili's popularity steadily waned. His reputation suffered when he failed to improve social and economic conditions.
Early this autumn Irakly Okruashvuili, who was Defence Minister under Saakashvili, was arrested when he accused his former ally of corruption.
Thousands took to the streets demanding an early parliamentary election and Mikhail Saakashvili's resignation.
On November 7, Georgain riot police dispersed peaceful demonstrators with tear gas, batons, water canons and rubber bullets.
Following the clashes, Saakashvili imposed a state of emergency, banning protests and independent news reports.
He quickly announced plans to hold early presidential elections. The state of emergency was lifted following pressure from the international community. ( RT )