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Europe

European Press Review: Georgia’s Velvet Revolution

The peaceful overthrow of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze continued to dominate papers in European capitals on Tuesday, where editorials sought to tackle the country's difficult future.

The Luxemburger Wort commented that, because of the electoral fraud committed on Nov. 2, deposed President Eduard Shevardnadze became almost universally discredited – even by his American friends. In his own country, the paper noted, the majority had already turned away from a president who could no longer save the economy. When the army and the police dropped their support of Shevardnadze, his retreat became a question of time. But the paper warned that Georgia's "problems cannot be resolved by joyous dancing in the streets."

The decisive question for Georgia now, opined Sweden's Dagens Nyheter, is whether the country is actually moving in the right direction for a better future. "While the European Union and NATO are talking about positive perspectives the country is in many aspects faces disintegration, its economy is in crisis and the country is riddled with corruption. The short-term danger is having overly high expectations," it warned.

According to the editors of London's Financial Times, Shevardnadze's overthrow brings a dramatic career to a sorry end. "His successors must move fast to hold their fragile country together, the paper wrote, adding that Russia and the US as the main external powers in the Caucasus must support them. Nevertheless, the paper warned that though Washington and Moscow should cooperate, they should also "avoid any temptation to indulge in another destructive round of Great Power competition in the region."

Hungary's Magya Hirlap wrote that Georgia is not as far away as it may seem. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his foreign minister to Tiblis and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell rang Shevardnadze from Washington. "Why the sudden feverish enthusiasm," the paper asked? "Because these local crises have a much wider international impact that are often underestimated."

The Moscow-based daily Iswestija pointed out that Georgia gets most of its gas and electricity supplies from Russia, giving the Russian government an unprecedented amount of leverage over the new government in Tiblis. "Until now there has never been occasion to use that leverage," wrote the paper. "And perhaps there never will be ... that all depends on how respectfully Mikhail Saakashwili and the other new leaders behave towards Moscow."

Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung also commented on Moscow's influence, writing that at the height of tensions over the weekend, the spotlight was thrown on the mediator from Russia, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. But the paper warned that Moscow's influence on the region is diminishing. It noted the man now wielding the most power in Georgia, opposition leader Mikhail Saakashwili, studied in the United States and is more friendly to the west.