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Mikhail Saakashvili

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Updated: 27.11.2003

Georgia's firebrand opposition leader who led protests that swept Eduard Shevardnadze from office, the front-runner for the country's presidency. Born 1967.

Mr Saakashvili was educated in law in the United States and worked in a New York-based firm, hence a fluent grasp of English. He also spent time in France, and married a Dutch woman. Still he always intended to return to Georgia, and in October 2000 was appointed justice minister by Mr Shevardnadze.

Mr Shevardnadze began grooming the young lawyer for power, but Mr Saakashvili found it hard to stomach what he saw as the corruption and cronyism of Georgia's leadership. He caused uproar at a cabinet meeting by producing documents which he said showed fellow ministers had acquired expensive villas from the proceeds of crooked deals.

By 2002 Mr Saakashvili had resigned, saying he considered it immoral to remain a member of the government. He formed an opposition party, the National Movement, and was elected head of the city council of the capital Tbilisi - home to one-third of Georgia's inhabitants.

From this power base, Mr Saakashvili attempted to establish himself as a man of action, impressing some city residents by fixing leaky roofs and broken lifts.

More recently, he has harnessed popular discontent and saw in November 2003 parliamentary elections an opportunity to make his mark nationally.

When the elections became tainted by widespread allegations of fraud, he organised daily protests against the government, building up a head of steam which led eventually to the storming of parliament and President Shevardnadze's resignation.

Opinion polls suggest that Mr Saakashvili has been the country's most popular politician for the last two years. He is proud of his own achievements, which he believes qualify him to deal with his country's problems.

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