Saakashvili to Shuffle Cabinet

STRASBOURG, France -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Thursday that Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili will be replaced as part of a major government reshuffle.

"More than half of the ministers will be replaced, the changes are not focused just on him," Saakashvili told reporters at the Council of Europe, where he addressed the human rights watchdog's parliamentary assembly. Saakashvili said policy changes would be made in all major portfolios, including economy and justice, but gave no details.

The announcement of major government changes follows Saakashvili's re-election this month in a vote that the opposition contends was rigged.

Although Saakashvili handily outdistanced his opponents in the results, the 53 percent he won was far lower than in his overwhelming 2004 victory, which came just weeks after he led the peaceful protests that became known as the Rose Revolution, ousting his predecessor.

In Tbilisi, acting Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze told reporters Saakashvili had chosen his campaign chief, David Bakradze, to replace Bezhuashvili. Before the campaign, Bakradze was minister for conflict resolution, in charge of interaction with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In his comments in Strasbourg, Saakashvili welcomed assurances by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the Kremlin would not rush to acknowledge Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.

"We hail Lavrov's statement, which proves Russia can respect our point of view," Saakashvili said.