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Jill Dougherty: 'Velvet revolution' in Georgia

Jill Dougherty
Jill Dougherty

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TBILISI, Georgia (CNN) -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned Sunday following massive protests against his leadership, with opposition leaders and demonstrators accusing Shevardnadze of corruption and election fraud.

CNN correspondent Jill Dougherty spoke from Tbilisi with anchor Wolf Blitzer about the "velvet revolution" taking place in Georgia.

DOUGHERTY: There is euphoria among the tens of thousands of people here gathered in front of the parliament building. They have been here for so long and now that they have the news they have been celebrating royally. Shevardnadze, their president since 1992, is stepping down. He has stepped down.

There is a new interim leader, a new interim president and there will be new elections. It's something that many people never believed would happen, and it all started with the elections on November 2 that were stolen. That was the spark that lit the fire of frustration that had been building for years and years. People here living so poorly, and so angry about it, and they blamed Eduard Shevardnadze.

In the west we think of Shevardnadze as a man who helped to peacefully end the Soviet Union, but here he became a despised man and people describing him as a dictator whom they simply could not stand having in power anymore.

He has stepped down and it happened in a dramatic fashion -- a meeting face-to-face between two members of the opposition and President Shevardnadze, brokered by the Russian foreign minister, who came here and had shuttled diplomacy back and forth.

[The Russian foreign minister] got them to sit down in one room and then Shevardnadze decided that he would step down. No bloodshed. The velvet revolution that the opposition was talking about has actually happened. There's been no bloodshed and it would appear that the military are firmly on the side of the opposition.

BLITZER: So many of the viewers in the U.S., North America, around the world will remember Shevardnadze, of course, from when he was the foreign minister in the Soviet Union working with [Mikhail] Gorbachev on reform, as you point out. What happened once he took over as president of Georgia? Was it a case of power corrupting him?

DOUGHERTY: If you talk to people down here, they have to say it's a combination of factors. He was incapable of uniting the country and pulling it together. After all there are two break away regions in this country. It's separate. They don't think of themselves as part of Georgia.

Then also, enormous corruption. Corruption is really the biggest issue here, and Shevardnadze was accused of it and his family and his clan of major, major corruption. You talk to anybody -- I talked to a Georgian businessman dealing in business here for years. He said it was unbelievable, that any type of business is smothered by corruption.

Then finally, the inability to really make that transition and turn the economy into something successful after the end of the Soviet Union.


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