UPDATE: Georgia appoints new foreign minister

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TBILISI, October 20 (RIA Novosti) - National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili, 38, had been appointed foreign minister, the Georgian president's press secretary said Thursday.

"The president has signed a resolution on his appointment," Gela Charkviani said.

Bezhuashvili will officially take up the post when parliament gives its approval.

Pro-Western Salome Zourabichvili was forced to resign Wednesday after a confrontation between parliament and the Foreign Ministry over the ratification of the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which deputies said had been postponed for too long because of the ministry.

Parliamentarians also criticized the minister's personnel policy, including alleged nepotism in the appointment of ambassadors and a ban on their direct contact with parliament.

"Georgia's recent foreign policy achievements are not a tribute to Salome Zourabichvili personally but the president, parliament, and the government in general," parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze said.

The new minister is an experienced politician, having served as Georgian ambassador to Ukraine and defense minister, and is known for his support of friendly relations with Russia.

Commenting on the results of a visit to Russia in March 2004, Bezhuashvili, who held the defense brief at the time, said Georgia was willing to develop relations with Russia as a neighbor and a friendly state. There is an opinion that Bezhuashvili's latest appointment may lead to Georgia toning down its hard line on Russian bases in the country.

"My goal as a minister is to take the 'threat' label off the Russian military contingent in Georgia," Bezhuashvili said while he was defense minister.

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