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Burdzhanadze: a cool head in emotional Georgia

( 2003-11-24 10:57) (Reuters)

Opposition politician Nino Burdzhanadze, who said on Saturday she was taking on the duties of Georgian president from Eduard Shevardnadze, cuts an unusually calm figure among her emotional countrymen.

A lawyer with internationally published essays, Burdzhanadze has been the considered the other half in a partnership formed with Georgia's main opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, for the purpose of removing the veteran president.

Her measured words and appeals for calm have balanced the strident pose of Saakashvili, the main force behind some of the biggest Georgian protests in a decade.

"We should be calm and organised," she told supporters during and after they stormed parliament, forcing Shevardnadze to flee in confusion as he was addressing the new assembly's inaugural session after a disputed election.

She also thanked the police and army "who did not raise their hands against the peaceful people of their own country".

Burdzhanadze, 39 and married with two children, seems an unlikely leader of what Saakashvili has called a "velvet revolution", referring to the bloodless 1989 end of communism in Czechoslovakia.

Buttoned up in tailored suits, many say she reminds them of a school head mistress. Her clipped but elegant Georgian goes straight to the point.

Widely popular among women, she has been twice elected to Georgia's parliament since she ended lengthy studies and consulting work at the Environment Ministry and parliament's Committee on Foreign Relations.

Like Saakashvili, Burdzhanadze once backed Georgia's now embattled president, who took power in 1992 after a period of huge upheaval following the collapse of communism.

She has called on opposition activists not to turn their wrath over the modern Georgia's dire straits into attacks on the 75-year-old Shevardnadze. At the same time she has been blunt in branding his administration corrupt.

"We should protect the physical security of the president, like any other citizen of this country," she said after the opposition seized the country's parliament on Saturday.

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