April 19 (Bloomberg) -- The party of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled a campaign to challenge billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who he accuses of steering the Black Sea nation toward Russia.
Saakashvili’s United National Movement used the first opposition rally since it lost its grip on power at an October election to present a new organization to help promote its long-term goals of entry into the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“The New National Movement will be about protecting the country’s interests,” Giorgi Vashadze, a lawmaker from the party, told a crowd of thousands today in the capital, Tbilisi. “It’s not about hating Russia, it’s about respectful partnership, which eventually leads us to our territorial unity.”
Saakashvili’s party is battling to regain its popularity amid tensions with Ivanishvili, who’s pledged to improve the rule of law, raise living standards and revive relations with Russia. Ties between the nations have been icy since a five-day war in 2008 over a breakaway Georgian republic. Presidential elections are due in October, when Saakashvili’s final term ends.
While Ivanishvili has said Georgia will maintain efforts to join the EU, the government is seeking to regain Russian market access for agricultural products including cheese, fruit, vegetables and meat after bans on wine and mineral water imports were lifted.
As many as 49 percent of Georgians are dissatisfied with their country’s relationship with Russia, while 38 percent are happy, according to a survey funded by the Swedish International Development Agency. The March poll of 3,103 people had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
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