May 8, 2015 / 10:34 PM / in 2 years

Georgia government survives confidence vote, appoints first female defense minister

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's government won a confidence vote in parliament on Friday, called after Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili was forced to reshuffle his cabinet following a series of resignations over the past year.

The new cabinet includes the former Soviet republic's first female defense minister, Tina Khidasheli, 41, a former lawmaker from the ruling coalition and the third minister to hold the portfolio since July.

President Georgy Margvelashvili, who has warned that Russia poses a threat to regional security, complained last week about too frequent changes of defense ministers.

Garibashvili, who has been more reluctant than the president to criticize Russia, told parliament on Friday that the country's pro-Western course was irreversible.

"Our main choice is European democracy, our main achievement - freedom," he said.

His Georgian Dream coalition's credibility has been dented by squabbling over the pace of economic reforms, worsening crime and a battle against corruption, as well as by economic problems including a rising current account deficit and falling exports and remittances, aggravated by Russia's economic downturn.

Seven ministers have resigned or been sacked in less than a year, the latest being Sports Minister Levan Kipiani last week. That triggered Friday's confidence vote, which the constitution stipulates must be held if more than a third of the cabinet is replaced.

Parliament also approved Gigla Agulashvili as environment minister on Friday, as well as Tariel Khechikashvili, a former co-owner of one of Georgia's largest car dealerships, Iberia Business Group, to replace Kipiani.

Georgia, which is crossed by pipelines carrying Caspian oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Europe, has not had diplomatic relations with Russia since Russian forces drove deep into the country during a 5-day war in 2008.

Margvelashvili says his country's future is linked to the European Union and NATO. It signed an Association Agreement with the EU last year but its ambition of joining NATO has effectively been on hold since the 2008 war.

Editing by Susan Fenton and Alan Crosby

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