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    State of emergency lifted in Georgia

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    The nationwide state of emergency imposed last week following mass anti-government rallies was lifted in Georgia on Friday.

    TBILISI, November 16 (RIA Novosti) - The nationwide state of emergency imposed last week following mass anti-government rallies was lifted in Georgia on Friday.

    The Georgian parliament voted 153-2 in favor of the measure, which came into effect at 6.00 p.m. Moscow time (3.00 p.m. GMT). The state of emergency was declared on November 7, and was originally set to last 15 days.

    The U.S-backed Georgian leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, 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."

    Saakashvili said on Friday that the early elections would be fully democratic with no restrictions.

    "We are preparing for early presidential elections and a referendum on the date of future parliamentary polls. All political forces will be able to operate without restrictions," Saakashvili said, adding that Georgia had already invited observers from the European Union to the election.

    Meanwhile, Georgian opposition leaders announced their intention to gather in front of parliament on Friday, one hour after the state of emergency was due to be lifted, in order to make a statement and give a news conference on their future plans.

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