Georgian PM names successor, ties with Russia a priority

Reuters

* Ivanishvili nominates Interior Minister Garibashvili

* PM says his work done after Saakashvili loses presidency

* Saakashvili favoured West over Russia

* Prime minister most powerful man in country

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Georgia's prime minister namedInterior Minister Irakly Garibashvili as his successor onSaturday, handing a close ally the task of treading a politicaltightrope between Russia and the West.

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has said he will quit aspremier after Georgy Margvelashvili is sworn in as president onNov. 17.

Margvelashvili was elected last month to take over fromMikheil Saakashvili, who spent a decade in power pursuingfriendly relations with the West - often at the expense ofRussia.

Ivanishvili, who entered politics two years ago following abusiness career in which he made a fortune estimated at $5.3billion, made efforts to maintain good ties with the West whileimproving them with Moscow.

He named his successor at the headquarters of his GeorgianDream coalition.

Under changes to the constitution that will this monthtransfer many of the president's responsibilities to the primeminister, the 31-year-old Garibashvili will become the country'smost powerful politician.

He said on Saturday he would stick with the outgoingpremier's policies.

"I promise our people, our country that I'll continue thepolicies and economic development (plans) started by BidzinaIvanishvili," Garibashvili said.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Garibashvili's task will be complicated by the state of tiesbetween Russia and the West, strained by tensions over theMiddle East as well as Moscow's granting of asylum to fugitiveU.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, and the detentionof 30 Greenpeace activists.

Ivanishvili, whose party's dominance of parliament hasallowed him to eclipse Saakashvili politically over the pastyear, succeeded in opening the Russian market for Georgian wine,mineral water and fruits after a ban imposed in 2006, two yearsbefore the two countries fought a five-day war.

Garibashvili still has to be nominated by parliament and approved by Margvelashvili, but both steps are viewed as aformality.

Margvelashvili's election cemented Georgian Dream's grip onpower, putting it in charge of the presidency for the firsttime, as well as the government and legislature, which it tookcontrol of in a parliamentary election in October last year.

Ivanishvili says the departure of Saakashvili, a bitterrival, means his job is now done.

But he is expected to continue wielding influence behind thescenes in the South Caucasus country of 4.5 million, which iscrossed by pipelines that carry Caspian oil and gas to Europe.

The current government must resign after the presidentialinauguration. Parliament then has one week to agree on a nomineefor post of prime minister, to be appointed by the president.

Ivanishvili, who will be acting premier during that week,will hand over his functions on Nov. 24 and a new cabinetproposed by his successor and approved by parliament.

Garibashvili has a master's degree in internationalrelations from Tbilisi and Sorbonne Universities.

Fluent in Russian, English and French, he held seniorpositions in Ivanishvili's Cartu Bank and his charity fundbefore joining the government as interior minister last year.

Garibashvili will set economic as well as foreign policy.

Poverty is a problem and, after years of robust growth,gross domestic product expanded just 1.5 percent in the secondquarter this year, down from 8.2 percent in the same period ayear ago.

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