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Saakashvili's given name is also used in the Georgian form Mikheil (he is commonly known as "Misha"). It is also transliterated Mixeil Saakašvili.
Saakashvili graduated from the School of International Law of the Kiev State University (Ukraine) in 1992. He received a law degree from Columbia in 1994 and a SJD (Doctorate of Juridical Science) from the law school at George Washington University the following year. In 1995, he also received a diploma from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. He is married to Sandra Roelofs, of Dutch origin. He is reported to be fluent in seven languages, including English, French and Russian.
Saakhashvili briefly worked in the Tengiz Kitovani & Jaba Ioseliani government as an assistant to one of the ministers. Then he received a followship from the US State Department Edmund S. Muskie/FREEDOM Support Act (FSA) Graduate Fellowship Program and left for studying in New-York at Columbia Law School. After graduation, while working in the New York law firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler in early 1995, Saakashvili was approached by Zurab Zhvania, an old friend from Georgia who was working on behalf of President Eduard Shevardnadze to recruit talented young Georgians to enter politics. He stood in the December 1995 elections along with Zhvania, and both men won seats in parliament, standing for the Union of Citizens of Georgia, Shevardnadze's party.
Saakashvili soon made a name for himself as chairman of the parliamentary committee charged with creating a new electoral system, an independent judiciary and a non-political police force. He achieved a high degree of public recognition, with opinion surveys finding him to be the second most popular person in Georgia, behind Shevardnadze. He was named "man of the year" by a panel of journalists and human rights advocates in 1997. In January 2000, Saakashvili was appointed Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
On October 12, 2000, Saakashvili became Minister for Justice for the government of President Shevardnadze. He initiated major reforms in the decrepit, corrupt and highly politicised Georgian criminal justice and prisons system. This earned praise from many international observers and human rights activists. But in mid-2001 he became involved in a major controversy with the Economics Minister Vano Chkhartishvili, State Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze and Tbilisi police chief Soso Alavidze, accusing them of profiting from corrupt business deals.
Saakashvili resigned on September 5, 2001, saying that "I consider it immoral for me to remain as a member of Shevardnadze's government." He declared that corruption had penetrated to the very centre of the Georgian government and that Shevardnadze lacked the will to deal with it, warning that "current developments in Georgia will turn the country into a criminal enclave in one or two years."
Having resigned from the government and quit the Shevardnadze-run Union of Citizens of Georgia party, Saakashvili founded the United National Movement (UNM) in October, 2001, a left-of-center political party akin to the Social Democrats in Europe with a touch of nationalism, to provide a focus for part of the Georgian reformists leaders. In June 2002, he was elected as the Chairman of the Tbilisi Assembly ("Sakrebulo") following an agreement between the United National Movement and the Georgian Labour Party. This gave him a powerful new platform from which to criticize the government.
Georgia held parliamentary elections on November 2, 2003 which were denounced by local and international observers as being grossly rigged. Saakashvilli claimed that he had won the elections (a claim supported by independent exit polls), and urged Georgians to demonstrate against Shevardnadze's government and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against the authorities. Saakashvili's UNM and Burdjanadze-Democrats united to demanded the ouster of Shevardnadze and the rerun of the elections.
Massive political demonstrations (the so-called "Rose Revolution") were held in Tbilisi between November 20 and November 23, with over 100,000 people participating and listening to speeches by Saakashvili and other opposition figures. After an increasingly tense two weeks of demonstrations, Shevardnadze bowed to the inevitable and resigned as President on November 23, to be replaced on an interim basis by parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze. While the revolutionary leaders did their best to stay within the Constitutional norms, many called the change of government a popular coup.
On February 24, 2004 the United National Movement and the United Democrats had amalgamated. New political movement was named the National Movement - Democrats (NMD). The movement's main political priorities include raising pensions and providing social services to the poor, its main base of support; fighting corruption; and increasing state revenue.
On January 4, 2004 Mikhail Saakashvili won the Presidential Elections in Georgia with more than 96% of the votes cast, making him the youngest national president in Europe. Saakashvili ran on a platform of opposing corruption and improving pay and pensions. He has promised to improve relations with the outside world. Although he is strongly pro-Western and intends to seek Georgian membership of NATO and the European Union, he has also spoken of the importance of better relations with Russia. He faces major problems, however, particularly Georgia's difficult economic situation and the still unresolved question of separatism in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Abkhazia regards itself as independent of Georgia and did not take part in the elections, whilst South Ossetia favours union with its northern counterpart in Russia.
Saakashvili was sworn in as President in Tbilisi on January 25, 2004. Immediately after the ceremony he signed a decree establishing a new state flag. On January 26, in a ceremony held at the Tbilisi Kashueti Church of Saint George, he promulgated a decree granting permission for the return of the body of the first President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, from Grozny (Chechen Republic) to Tbilisi and renaming a major road in the capital after Gamsakhurdia. He also released 32 Gamsakhurdia supporters (political prisoners) imprisoned by the Shevardnadze government in 1993-94.
There have been some concerns about Mr Saakashvili's authoritarian tendencies. Some small protests have been broken up by heavy-handed police officers, and a new media bill, has sparked controversy. In October 2004, fourteen Georgian Civil Society leaders and Georgian experts wrote an open letter to the President, published in several national newspapers, claiming "Intolerance towards people with different opinions is being planted in Georgian politics and in other spheres of social life".
- The official site of the President of Georgia
- Journal: Modern Georgia's Young Founding Fathers by Stephen Kinzer, New York Times, June 4, 1998
- Caspian Business News article on Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs
- BBC News Online profile of Mikhail Saakashvili
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