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    Georgia to lift state of emergency early

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    Georgia's parliament has approved an initiative from President Mikheil Saakashvili to end on Friday the nationwide state of emergency imposed last week following mass anti-government rallies.

    TBILISI, November 16 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's parliament has approved an initiative from President Mikheil Saakashvili to end on Friday the nationwide state of emergency imposed last week following mass anti-government rallies.

    Lawmakers voted 153-2 in favor of the measure, which will come into effect at 6.00 p.m. Moscow time (3.00 p.m. GMT), and will not require a special decree issued by the president. The state of emergency was declared on November 7, and was originally set to last 15 days.

    "The president has submitted the initiative to parliament, and it has been approved," parliamentary spokeswoman Madonna Nozadze, said. "There will be no other documents to implement the measure."

    The U.S-backed Georgian leader declared a state of emergency after six days of mass protests in Tbilisi, which were brutally brought to an end by riot police on November 7. His initiative to end emergency rule early followed harsh Western criticism of his handling of the rallies, the largest in the small ex-Soviet state since the 2003 protests that brought the president to power.

    Saakashvili also previously announced early presidential elections for January 5 in a move that Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday called a deceptive maneuver designed to keep the current leadership in power.

    The ministry said: "The date of the polls testifies to that. The opposition will be unable to form a united front within such a short time, and society will not be able to overcome its fear of reprisals in the wake of the brutal police crackdown on protests."

    Meanwhile, the last train containing Russian servicemen and property left a Soviet-era base in Batumi in southern Georgia, crossed the border with Armenia early on Thursday after being held for hours by Georgian officials, who claimed "technical reasons" to be the cause.

    The Batumi pullout means that no Russian troops remain in Georgia except for peacekeepers in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, said earlier General of the Army Alexei Maslov, the Ground Forces commander.

    Under an agreement between the former Soviet republics, Russia was to complete the closure of its base in Batumi by the end of 2008, but expedited the withdrawal following escalated tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi.

    Last December, Russia completed the pullout of its military garrison from Tbilisi, handing over control of its headquarters to Georgia's Defense Ministry, and formally handed over its military base at Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia to Tbilisi in June, ahead of the October 2007 deadline.

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