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Georgia's president will step down on Sunday as he braces himself
Georgia's president will step down on Sunday as he braces himself for early elections fixed for January 5 following mass street protests earlier this month, a presidential spokesman said on Thursday.

Opponents said that by stepping down 40 days ahead of the polls, rather than 45 days, Mikheil Saakashvili has broken the law. They also claimed the president had already launched his campaign, using state funds and administrative resources.

Presidential press office chief Vano Noniashvili said the president would have to "carry on his duties", holding "important meetings with his counterparts from Poland and Lithuania, who will be in Georgia on November 23-24 to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the 'rose revolution.'"

The opposition have accused television channels, which resumed broadcasts after a state of emergency was lifted last Friday, of "bias in Saakashvili's favor."

Russia's Kommersant daily reported on Thursday that a documentary on the recent anti-government rallies in Tbilisi portrayed the opposition as being aided by Russian security services. Moscow has angrily denied Saakashvili's allegations of that it was behind the unrest.

Opposition leaders recently raised the issue, as well as the closure of the independent Imedi TV station, at a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Georgia, John Tefft. They also plan to hold a rally in the capital on Sunday to demand that the government allow Imedi to resume broadcasts.

A huge concert stage is being set up in Tbilisi's central street for events to remember the 2003 mass street protests that brought the U.S.-educated Saakashvili to power, ousting Georgia's longtime leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

Political opponents claim that Saakashvili has since then become too authoritarian, and the opposition has said it wants to change the political setup to shift power away from the president, giving parliament a stronger role.

Although now less popular both at home and abroad, with Western countries criticizing his handling of the political crisis, Saakashvili is believed to have a strong chance of securing reelection.

A total of eight people have announced plans to run on January 5, including the opposition's single candidate, former businessman Levan Gachechiladze, and billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, who was at the center of recent unrest which saw hundreds injured in clashes between protesters and police, and emergency rule briefly imposed.

Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burdzhandze, who led talks with the opposition during the crisis, will be acting president after Saakashvili steps down.


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