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Saakashvili challenges opponents on Russia

  |   Feb. 28, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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GORI, Georgia, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili says the country's opposition political parties need to be open and clear about their stances toward Russia.

Saakashvili, speaking Saturday at a military base in Gori near the border with South Ossetia, called on parliamentary candidates to not conceal their true feelings about Georgia's relations with Russia.

The Georgian president said that in his country, political candidates are free to have sympathy for Moscow but need to be open about it so voters know what they're getting, the non-governmental online news site Civil Georgia reported.

"You can have ties with Russia's current authorities and you can think that it is more important than membership in the EU and NATO but you can't hide this position from public," Saakashvili said. "Discussions over our country's future are so important that it is our obligation to make it clear and open for the public."

The remarks came as Georgia gears up for October parliamentary elections and seemed to be aimed at billionaire opposition candidate Bidzina Ivanishvili, political observers said.

Ivanishvili, a formerly apolitical figure in Georgia, last week announced a bid to challenge Saakashvili with a new political coalition called Georgian Dream that includes the Our Georgia-Free Democrats, Republican Party and National Forum.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been at low ebb since the brief 2008 war between the countries.

The conflict was precipitated when the Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared their independence and Russia quickly recognized them. Tbilisi still regards the republics as part of its territory although Moscow has established military bases in the regions.

Saakashvili's ruling party has intimated Ivanishvili's position that it's possible for Georgia to have good relations with both Russia and NATO carries pro-Moscow undertones, Civil Georgia reported.

"I see that some parties are hesitant over the most important issue of the country such as security and freedom; they are jumping from one position to another, changing the priorities based on the results of opinion polls, down the wind," Saakashvili said.

Instead, he declared, "NATO and the European Union are the only way for having sustainable statehood for our future generations," and added, "Russia's current leaders do not need neighbors, they want to have obedient vassals."

The remarks came as Putin prepares to run for Russian president in March elections. He is considered unlikely to lose the poll, which would return him to the presidency for a six-year term after previously serving as president from 2000-08.

Saakashvili took a jab at Putin Saturday, saying supporting him is "neither good nor moral," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

The region's political passions were on display Friday when the government said Saakashvili's Facebook page was hacked.

Interfax reported the hackers posted messages claiming the president is Armenian by origin and that his wife, Sandra Roelofs, works undercover for U.S. special services.

The hacks came only a day after Georgian bloggers posted 200 messages on Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's Facebook page demanding the "de-occupation" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, RFE/RL said.

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