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Georgia's president picks vice premier to replace departed prime minister

With opinion polls showing plunging support for Georgia's embattled government, the prime minister abruptly resigned this week. His replacement needs to reivive the economy and lead his party to parliamentary elections.

Georgia's president on Friday nominated vice premier Giorgi Kvirikashvili as the new head of government after the

surprise resignation of Irakli Garibashvili

.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili said he had submitted Kvirikashvili's candidacy to parliament for approval after the country's ruling coalition threw its support behind the 48-year-old economist as it struggles to boost popularity ahead of key parliamentary polls next year.

In brief comments to reporters, Kvirikashvili, who until now also served as foreign minister, said he was planning "some change -- not a dramatic one" to the cabinet.

Then Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili at a press conference at the German Chancellery in June 2014

Irakli Garibashvili abruptly resigened as prime minister

The 33-year-old Garibashvili suddenly resigned as prime minister on Wednesday after just two years on the job without explaining his decision.

He became Europe's youngest head of government when he was appointed at age 31 in November 2013.

He welcomed Kvirikashvili's nomination, praising it as a "very good choice."

Opposition politicians suggested that former prime minister and billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili was behind the government shake-up ahead of parliamentary elections next October.

"Unfortunately, all the political decisions in our country are being taken by one person," the leader of the opposition Free Democrats party, Irakli Alasania, said. "This would be unacceptable in a democratic society."

Torn between Russia and the West

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili talks into a camera during a TV interview in Vilnius, Lithuania in 201.

President Margvelashvili picked a new prime minister

One of the closest allies of

former president Mikhail Saakashvili

, Giga Bokeria, struck a similar chord.

"An unaccountable man without any official role, Bidzina Ivanishvili, shuffles the cards in Georgian politics the way he likes," said Bokeria, a prominent member of the opposition United National Movement party.

Analysts pointed to the coalition's efforts to reverse

a plunge in popularity amid economic turmoil

in the former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people, which is the subject of a geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West.

"Georgian Dream - which proved incapable of handling the economic crisis and failed to deliver on its own promises to introduce democratic reforms - is trying to repair its damaged image in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections," political analyst Helen Khoshtaria said.

The coalition's approval rating

stood at just 18 percent last month, according to an opinion poll by the US-based National Democratic Institute.

Georgian Dream - a motley coalition of small parties assembled by Ivanishvili - wrested power from fervently pro-Western Saakashvili's United National Movement in 2012 elections.

Ivanishvili stepped down in November 2013 to make way for Garibashvili.

After years of economic boom

during Saakashvili's leadership, the ruling coalition's three years in power have brought about an economic slowdown, rising inflation and a 44 percent devaluation of the national currency.

Saakashvili, who became a fervent supporter of the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, has since

taken up a post as governor of Odessa

for the government in Kyiv. He was eventually stripped of his Georgian citizenship as a result.

bik/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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