Saakashvili Talking Up Conciliation

TBILISI, Georgia -- Mikheil Saakashvili was sworn in to a second presidential term Sunday, pledging to mend fences with Russia, push Georgia closer to the West and bring prosperity to a republic troubled by a divisive election that opponents claim was rigged.

After taking the oath of office in an elaborate ceremony outside the parliament in the center of the Georgian capital, the 40-year-old, U.S.-educated lawyer reached out to opposition leaders and called the country a unified force.

"Our strength is in our unity. We must unite and build our country together," Saakashvili told the thousands who gathered for the ceremony. "We are going down different paths, but we have a common direction."

The event was followed by a military parade along the main boulevard that featured heavy weaponry and soldiers carrying not Russian-made Kalashnikov rifles, but U.S.-made weapons -- a sign of Saakashvili's intention to pull the country further from Moscow's orbit toward the United States and the West.

Saakashvili spoke outside the parliament building, which was draped with massive bunting in the colors of the Georgian flag, and he was flanked by dozens of guests, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The United States sent a midlevel official -- Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

In his speech, Saakashvili renewed calls to repair ties between Moscow and Tbilisi -- ties strained by border disputes and increasing U.S. influence.

"Four years ago, we extended a hand of friendship and cooperation to Russia. Today, I want to repeat that offer."

The Georgian leader won more than 53 percent of the Jan. 5 vote, according to official results. The opposition claims fraud pushed him over the 50 percent threshold for an outright victory and wants a runoff with opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, who officially won about 25 percent.

Russia, whose relations with Georgia are badly strained, said that the election campaign could "hardly be called free and fair," but President Vladimir Putin has also congratulated Saakashvili.