Georgian Leader Visits Turkey Urges Closer Ties

ANKARA (Reuters/Zaman)–Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili urged Turkish investors on Thursday to help rebuild his country’s battered economy–including that of the formerly breakaway Black Sea region of Ajaria which borders Turkey.

Saakashvili took charge of Ajaria earlier this month pledging to entrench democracy there with new elections after forcing its rebellious leader Aslan Abashidze to flee. "The resolution of the Ajaria problem brings a chance for closer relations. New possibilities are being created for improving our economic relations and border trade," Saakashvili said at the start of a two-day official visit to Turkey.

"We expect Turkey and Turkish investors to contribute to Ajaria’s development and to the Georgian economy. What is important for us is to improve economic cooperation."

Turkey and its NATO ally–the United States–have strongly backed the youthful Saakashvili–fearing that prolonged instability in Georgia could imperil an oil pipeline under construction across its territory.

The pipeline–which is being built by a BP BPL-led consortium–will pump crude from Azerbaijan’s Caspian oilfields across Georgia to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It is due to start operating from May 2005.

Georgia said recently it expected to receive revenues of about $50 million a year from the pipeline.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer reaffirmed Ankara’s support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and praised the 37-year-old–American-educated Saakashvili’s handling of the Ajaria crisis–which ended peacefully.

Sezer said Turkey hoped Georgia would be able to resolve its disputes with two other rebellious regions–South Ossetia and Abkhazia–in the same peaceful way. Georgian officials say winning back these two provinces will prove much tougher because–unlike Ajaria–they have fought ethnic separatist wars with the authorities in Tbilisi.

Georgia’s young leader will hold a series of meetings in Istanbul and Ankara during his 3-day visit to Turkey. Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer welcomed Saakasvili earlier on Thursday. The Georgian President will also meet with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul during his visit. Saakashvili will be unable to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan because Erdogan who will be in Romania during the duration of Saakasvili’s visit.

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