Georgia has learnt lesson from protests, minister says

( dpa ) - Georgia's government has learnt from violent protests against President Mikhail Saakashvili in November, Georgia's Justice Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said on Tuesday.

"What happened in November was the hardest decision we had to make. We had a clear threat against state security, but decisions were morally not easy to make," Tkeshelashvili, who was visiting the Austrian capital, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Mistakes were made, especially regarding the violent escalation of the protests and overreaction by - largely untrained police forces - and Georgia's leaders had "learned this lesson," the minister added.

Georgia's government said that the protests were part of an attempt to overthrow government.

Georgia would never succumb to violence, but would not jeopardize state security or stability, Tkeshelashvili promised. "We will always allow freedom of expression, as long as it is peaceful."

Defending Saakashvili's decision to call for snap presidential elections on January 5, the 30-year-old justice minister said it had been the "proper decision to solve this political crisis."

Last weekend's protests, when between 50,000 and 100,000 Georgians rallied to challenge the election results and accused the government of manipulation would not result in a prolonged political crisis, the minister believed.

Deflecting criticism of the election process by international monitors, Tkeshelashvili admitted mistakes were made.

"We do acknowledge that the process was not flawless on a technical level. Time for preparation was short and there were new people on the election commission."

Steps were taken to rectify the situation for the upcoming parliamentary elections in spring. However, allegations that the election commission jumped the gun and announced the incumbent Saakashvili the winner of the polls ahead of having final results were "wrong."

"The commission only informed the public about preliminary results," she said.

According to the election commission, Saakashvili emerged victorious with 53.47 per cent of the vote, ahead of main opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, who was supported by 25.69 per cent of Georgia's electorate.

The government now expects the opposition to take political responsibility. Sakashvili repeatedly stressed his willingness to work with the opposition and form an inclusive government. "Talks with the opposition have brought no concrete results yet, but we are still open," Tkeshelashvili said.

Georgia remains on track for NATO membership. November's protests showed that the country was a "stable partner" and retained its capacity for securing its freedom and stability.

"Instability and violence will not be allowed any more in Georgia," Tkeshelashvili said. "We showed that Georgia will never interfere with peaceful demonstrations."

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