By Ria Novosti
(RFE/RL) — Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has named a close ally, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, to be the country’s new prime minister.
Saakashvili’s announcement on June 30 came as Georgian political forces are gearing up for parliamentary elections due in October.
Merabishvili will replace Nika Gilauri, who has been prime minister since early 2009. No announcement was made about a new interior minister.
Saakashvili said he was tasking Merabishvili to take steps to reduce the small Caucasian nation’s high unemployment rate, reportedly at 16 percent, and implement other reforms.
Merabishvili, interior minister since late 2004, has won praise from international observers for implementing police reforms and a crackdown on corruption, but was criticized for harsh measures used to break up opposition rallies against Saakashvili’s presidency.
His appointment is expected to be formally approved by parliament next week.