Georgia Halves GDP Growth Forecast

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian Finance Minister Nika Gilauri halved his forecast for 2008 economic growth on Friday, saying political turmoil had scared off foreign investors.

"We had been forecasting for 2008 10 percent to 12 percent GDP growth, but now, after mass protests and political disorder, we expect GDP to grow by only 5 to 6 percent next year," Gilauri said in a telephone interview.

In November, President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered police to force opposition protesters off the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, with tear gas and rubber bullets. Saakashvili, a staunch U.S. ally, then imposed a weeklong state of emergency and called a snap presidential election for Jan. 5.

Both overseas investors and economic institutions have said the political uncertainty and street clashes have tarnished Georgia's image.

"What we have managed in the last two years is to win trust from many foreign investors, but now they are waiting. They are in waiting mode," Gilauri said.