Think Tank Cautions Saakashvili

TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia must follow through with reforms promised after its war with Russia in August if it is to weather the coming economic storm and limit social discontent, an influential think tank said.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, in a briefing issued late Wednesday, said that although pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili's position was for now secure, "his administration will be severely tested politically and economically in the winter and spring ahead."

Georgia stands to lose international goodwill and some of the $5.4 billion of aid promised after its five-day war with Russia if Saakashvili does not expand and implement a promised wave of democratic reforms, the think tank said.

Saakashvili's young government came to power in the former Soviet republic on the back of the 2003 "Rose Revolution" but has disappointed its Western backers with the slow pace of democratic reform.

Economic liberalization and growth have been overshadowed by Saakashvili's perceived authoritarianism that critics say has stifled the media, judiciary and opposition and concentrated power in the hands of the president.

The opposition accuses Saakashvili of walking into a war Georgia could not possibly win. The president will face questions about the events leading up to and during the war when he testifies before a parliamentary commission Friday, his spokeswoman said.

"The global economic crisis and flight of foreign investment are likely to increase social discontent, but it remains unclear who will mobilize these grievances," the ICG said. "Tbilisi must restore stability to encourage foreign investment and development."

The briefing paper called for more effective social assistance, a truly independent judiciary, elimination of high-level corruption, increased freedom for the broadcast media, changes to the electoral code and transfer of some presidential powers to the legislature and government.

Officials Thursday said Saakashvili's testimony had been postponed but later said it would go ahead on Friday.