Georgian tycoon takes on Saakashvili

Mon Oct 17, 2011 5:08am EDT
 
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By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is quitting business to enter politics, says he will win next year's parliamentary election and is ready to repair ties with Russia that were damaged by the war in 2008.

Ivanishvili, whose fortune is estimated at $5.5 billion by U.S. Forbes magazine, declared his ambitions in an open letter last week and called on President Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-western leader of Georgia's 2003 'rose' revolution, to resign.

The reclusive businessman, also known by the Russian first name of Boris and whose banking-to-retail interests are mainly in Russia, was quickly denounced by Tbilisi as a "Kremlin stooge" and stripped of his Georgian citizenship.

But, in his first media interview since 2005, Ivanishvili told Reuters at the weekend he would rally the "healthy" elements of Georgia's divided opposition and oust Saakashvili's ruling party in parliamentary elections due in autumn next year.

"With a probability of at least 90 percent we will enter parliament with an absolute majority," said Ivanishvili, 55.

"It's too early to say whether we will create a bloc or it will be one party," he said. "Consultations with some of the healthy opposition forces in Georgia are under way."

Ivanishvili poses a challenge to the pro-western course taken by Saakashvili in eight years as leader of Georgia, a nation of 4.7 million on Russia's restive southern flank that is a strategic corridor for exports of Caspian oil to Europe.

MYSTERY MAN   Continued...

 
<p>Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Tbilisi, October 14, 2011. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili</p>