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Ivanishvili fills key cabinet posts

The head of the Georgian coalition that won the country's recent parliamentary elections has unveiled some his choices for cabinet ministers. They include a former soccer star and a former UN diplomat.

In a news conference in the capital Tbilisi, Bidzina Ivanishvili named Irakly Alasania, who was ambassador to the United Nations before resigning in 2008 and moving into opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili, as defense minister and one of two deputy prime ministers.

Kakha Kaladze, a former defender for Italian soccer club AC Milan and the Georgian national team, was unveiled as the other deputy PM as well as minister for regional development.

Maya Panjikidze, spokeswoman for Ivanishvili and former ambassador to Germany and the Netherlands, is to be foreign minister.

The Georgian parliament must ratify every nomination, but the process is expected to be a formality as Ivanishvili's coalition controls a majority of the chamber.

The victory by the billionaire tycoon's coalition will make governing more difficult for President Mikheil Saakashvili, after nine years of members of his party holding a majority in parliament. Ivanishvili is expected to be elected prime minister when the assembly convenes later this month.

New EU nations urge Georgia to stay on course

In a joint letter addressed to both Ivanishvili and Saakashvili, five of the European Union's newest members urged the Caucasus state to press on with its aspirations of joining both the EU and the Western military alliance NATO.

The foreign ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania called on Ivanishvili to stay on course for "European and Euro-Atlantic integration" and "spare no energy nor enthusiasm in undertaking the necessary reforms."

Western governments are waiting to see how Ivanishvili will handle relations with the United States and Russia. Ivanishvili has said that entry into the EU and NATO remain priorities, but that he also plans on repairing political ties with Russia, which were damaged during a five-day war in 2008.

The EU ministers also called on the two political adversaries to "ensure that the newly elected parliament will undertake its functions in an orderly and constructive manner."

"We strongly believe that today is the time to work together for the benefit of national unity and the interests of Georgia," they said.

Saakashvili and his party have promised to cooperate in the formation of the government - an indication that the first post-Soviet era transfer of power between the two organizations via election will be peaceful, despite fears of possible unrest.

dr/pfd (Reuters, AFP, dpa)