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Georgia should compete in Russia's Winter Olympics: next PM

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to the media after his meeting with Bidzina Ivanishvili, prime minister nominee and Georgian
Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to the media after his meeting with Bidzina Ivanishvili, prime minister nominee and Georgian

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia should compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, the country's incoming prime minister said on Tuesday, saying political tension with its neighbor should not get in the way of the games.

The two countries fought a brief war in 2008 over breakaway Georgian republics and ended diplomatic ties. Georgia's outgoing president was considering a boycott of the Winter Games.

Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition won a parliamentary election on October 1 that ended nearly a decade of dominance by President Mikheil Saakashvili's party.

Olympic host city Sochi lies northwest of Georgia on the Black Sea coast and is adjacent to Abkhazia, one of two Russian-backed breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognised as independent nations after the five-day war in August 2008.

"Georgia should participate in the Olympics and as a neighbor should do everything to ensure that Games are conducted peacefully and without any accidents," Ivanishvili told a news conference.

Ivanishvili, 56, has vowed to continue Georgia's drive for deeper integration with NATO and the West but has said he would seek to improve relations with Russia, his country's Soviet-era overlord.

Ivanishvili made much of a fortune estimated at $6.4 billion in Russia and Saakashvili suggested he was a Kremlin stooge during the election campaign. He sold all his business in Russia and renounced his Russian citizenship.

Saakashvili has signed a decree to restore Ivanishvili's Georgian citizenship, which was revoked last year, presidential spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze said on Tuesday. Ivanishvili also has French citizenship, but has said he would renounce it.

NEW CABINET

Ivanishvili also unveiled seven of his future ministers, including Nodar Khaduri who will head the finance ministry after serving as deputy finance minister in 2003-2004 and Georgy Kvirikashvili slated for the economy ministry.

Ivanishvili moved his close ally and a retired soccer player Kakha Kaladze to lead the energy ministry from his earlier choice of ministry for regional development.

"There might be questions about this nomination as Kakha (Kaladze) does not have any experience in the energy sector at all, but he learns very fast," Ivanishvili said.

The Georgian parliament's approval for Ivanishvili's choices is widely seen as a formality with the Georgian Dream holding a majority in the chamber.

Saakashvili has also promised not to stall forming the government following Georgia's first peaceful transfer of power between parties through an election since the Soviet era.

Mark Mullen, head of Georgia's unit of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, said the cabinet picks could be seen as political appointments.

"It will be very, very important for these ministries to behave transparently, particularly the energy ministry where there is a lot of money involved," he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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