Georgian president offers parliament more power

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TBILISI, Oct 16 (Reuters) Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili offered to give parliament in his ex-Soviet state more power today, a rare concession that came soon after he faced the biggest opposition protests of his rule.

Saakashvili, whose critics say has amassed too much power since he led the 2003 ''Rose revolution'' that swept aside his predecessor, proposed reforms including limiting the president's authority to dismiss parliament.

''I propose lowering the threshold for parties in parliamentary elections to five percent, limiting the president's right to dismiss parliament and prolonging parliament's term to five years,'' Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili's popularity was dented after thousands of people took to the streets to protest the arrest of Irakly Okruashvili, a former defence minister, on corruption charges days after setting up an opposition party.

Before his arrest, Okruashvili had accused the Georgian president of corruption and plotting a businessman's murder.

Saakashvili said the allegations were lies, and Okruashvili later withdrew them in a televised statement he made in police custody before he was released on bail. The opposition, galvanised by the Okruashvili case, is planning a big protest rally in Tbilisi on November 2.

Georgia, a country of five million people in the Caucasus mountains between Russia and Turkey, is to hold simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections late in 2008.

Under the law now, parliament's term is four years and parties must win seven percent of the vote to qualify for seats.

Cutting the threshold to five percent is likely to bring a wider range of parties into the chamber, which is dominated by Saakashvili loyalists. Saakashvili made the proposals at a meeting with lawmakers in the ruling party.

He also said he wanted parliament to amend the state budget to help compensate pensioners and low-income groups for rises in consumer prices.

REUTERS CS BST0112

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