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Georgian billionaire confirmed as prime minister

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has been confirmed as prime minster of Georgia, more than three weeks after his coalition party triumphed in elections. He has said he wants Georgia to join NATO and ultimately the EU.

Georgia's parliament ratified Ivanishvili on Thursday with 88 votes to 54, completing the country's transition of power.

Parliamentary elections on October 1 saw Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition party triumph over the United National Movement party of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The election ended Saakashvili's nine-year dominance in parliament, although he will stay on in the presidency for another year.

"It will be hard, but we will do what we promised," Ivanishvili, 56, said in parliament Thursday, about governing with his rival.

Ahead of his formal appointment, the billionaire vowed he would continue the president's drive to integrate Georgia with the West. This would be combined with a bid to restore relations with Russia in the wake of a brief war in August 2008.

"Our team's priority is the aspiration to join the European Union, Euroatlantic orientation and integration into NATO," Ivanishvili told lawmakers. "We will start a dialogue with Russia using international mechanisms that will help overcome the current crisis step by step."

As Georgia's wealthiest man, Ivanishvili has an estimated fortune of $6.4 billion (4.9 billion euros).

ccp/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)