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Georgian president reflects on `miracle' of country's changes

Here are selected comments from a recent wide-ranging interview with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili:

_ON POLICE REFORMS: "For the first time in our history, our police have discovered you don't have to torture people to keep crime in check."

_ON JOBLESSNESS: "If you're a professor of physics and you're driving a taxi, you don't consider yourself employed. Unfortunately, we don't need that many professors of physics anymore. So it's been painful."

_ON FIGHTING CORRUPTION: "A year ago we didn't have a single bureaucrat in Georgia making a wage above subsistence level. But they weren't Samaritans. In fact, most ministers were extremely wealthy. I can now say with a clear conscience that Georgia has the cleanest government (in the former Soviet Union). This is a miracle."

_ON RELATIONS WITH THE WEST: "We don't expect the West to feed us or adopt us or think about us round the clock. We can only develop on our own. I have no illusions about that."

_ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA: "I misjudged (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. I thought we would be able to do things together much more easily. I'd say I misjudged Russia in general. I saw things much too simplified."

_ON A MULTI-ETHNIC SOCIETY: "We want to introduce Ramadan as a national holiday. We have lots of Muslims, and we want them to feel like they're part of the success (of the Rose Revolution). We're also talking about making Hanukkah a holiday. I don't believe in affirmative action as a policy in general, but in these circumstances I'm willing to implement it."

_ON HIS PROFILE: "We had the first televised revolution in history. We were live on CNN for four and a half hours without a commercial. So when I got to Davos (for the 2004 World Economic Forum), they all recognized me. Journalists and members of Parliament from Lebanon came up to me and said, `We want what happened in Georgia to happen in Lebanon.'"

_By Mark McDonald


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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