TBILISI, November 17 (RIA Novosti) – Giorgi Margvelashvili was sworn in as the new president of Georgia at an inauguration ceremony in the capital Tbilisi on Sunday afternoon.
Margvelashvili, backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, won a crushing victory in the country’s October presidential election to mark Georgia’s first-ever peaceful power transition since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The relative newcomer to politics garnered 62.12 percent of the vote, compared to his closest challenger, Davit Bakradze of the former ruling United National Movement party, who won 21.72 percent.
A ceremony to lay flowers at a monument for fallen soldiers in Tbilisi’s Heroes Square was scheduled after the inauguration, followed by an official dinner, a gala concert, and a reception.
Margvelashvili will also hold bilateral meetings Sunday with heads of some of the 53 official foreign delegations that attended the inauguration.
Among the guests at the ceremony were the prime ministers of Azerbaijan and Austria and the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite.
Lithuania is the current president of the Council of the European Union, and will host the EU Eastern Partnership Summit later this month, which Georgia is scheduled to attend.
Outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili, Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava, and their National Movement party declined to attend the inauguration, saying the new ruling party is unwilling to cooperate politically.
Russian officials were also absent from the ceremony, as bilateral diplomatic relations ended in 2008 after a brief war in August over Georgia’s de-facto independent republic of South Ossetia. Moscow subsequently recognized both South Ossetia and its fellow breakaway Georgian republic of Abkhazia as independent states, and provides them with economic and military support.
Their independence has been recognized by a handful of other countries, but most countries continue to consider South Ossetia and Abkhazia part of Georgia.
Russian-Georgian relations are historically troubled, marred by repeated conflict over the southern nation’s territory and independence.
Margvelashvili promised willingness to normalize relations with Russia during his inauguration speech, noting that the task would require Georgia’s northern neighbor to respect its sovereign and territorial integrity.
US President Barack Obama congratulated Georgia on the peaceful transition Saturday, urging political unity and continued cooperation with the US.
Margvelashvili is the fourth elected president of Georgia and will serve a five-year term.
Updated with Margvelashvili's comments about Russian relations and relevant background.