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New Georgian president inaugurated

Georgia has inaugurated a new president, 44-year-old philosopher and former university rector Giorgi Margvelashvili, who pledged to strengthen the former Soviet republic's ties with the west and maintain its commitment to Nato.

His inauguration brings to an end the nearly decade-long presidency of Mikhail Saakashvili, who aligned the Black Sea nation with the US and put it on the path toward integration with the European Union (EU).

The new president has little political experience and is seen as beholden to Bidzina Ivanishvili, a multi-billionaire whose coalition drove Mr Saakashvili's party from power in last year's parliamentary election.

Mr Ivanishvili has served as prime minister for the past year but stepped down after the inauguration as planned. His chosen successor, Irakli Gharibashvili, who as interior minister had been in charge of Georgia's police force, is expected to be approved by parliament in the coming days.

Most Georgians expect Mr Ivanishvili to retain influence over political and economic life, as the new president himself has acknowledged.

"He (Ivanishvili) is a person who has very serious public support," Mr Margvelashvili told The Associated Press during an interview at his home last week.

"He is a person whom I respect very seriously and has very serious influence on me because I respect him and I trust him. So, any time he has some kind of position, definitely that will matter for me."

Mr Margvelashvili won last month's presidential election with 62% of the vote.

In his inaugural address, he expressed his commitment to democracy, EU integration and the strategic partnership with the US.

He said Georgians would continue to do their part in the international fight against terrorism, despite the losses sustained in Afghanistan, where Georgia is the largest non-Nato contributor of troops to the Nato-led mission.

Mr Saakashvili, who has been in Brussels for more than a week, refused to attend Sunday's inauguration, citing the criminal prosecution of several of his former ministers and members of his party.

Mr Ivanishvili has said that Mr Saakashvili also is likely to be questioned, in particular over the 2005 death of his first prime minister.

Zurab Zhvania's death was attributed to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater but his brother has accused Mr Saakashvili of hiding the truth.

AP

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