(b. Tbilisi, Georgia, 21 Dec. 1967)
Georgian; President 2004–7, 2008– Saakashvili graduated in law from Kiev University and continued his studies overseas before working, between 1993 and 1995, for a law firm in New York. He was invited to return to Georgia in 1995 and was elected to Parliament later that year. In 2000 he was appointed Justice Minister. Having been considered a protégé of President Shevardnaze, Saakashvili caused controversy by attacking government corruption, before resigning from Parliament in 2001. He was re-elected in the subsequent by-election, declared his opposition to Shevardnadze, and formed a new political party. In 2003, Saakashvili led the popular ‘Rose Revolution’ movement which disputed the results of parliamentary elections that had been claimed by Shevardnadze. Shevardnadze resigned and Saakashvili became president after a landslide victory in elections in 2004. He called for an end to corruption and sought to keep the country united—two regions, South Ossetia and Abhkazia, sought closer ties with Russia, and Russia supported rebels in these areas. Saakashvili also aspired to distance Georgia from Russia and develop closer ties with the West, through NATO and EU membership. US President George W Bush praised Georgia as a ‘beacon of liberty’ during a visit to Tbilisi in 2005. In 2007, Saakashvili himself was accused of corruption. Fifty thousand people gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi calling for his resignation, a state of emergency was declared, and he resigned at the end of November. Elections in January 2008, declared valid by monitors, resulted in Saakashvili's re-election, albeit with a reduced majority. In April 2008 Russia announced that it would form closer ties with Abhkazia and South Ossetia. Saakashvili prompted a military conflict with Russia in August after intervening in South Ossetia in an attempt to retake the area from Russian rebels. This led to Russian forces defeating Georgian troops in both South Ossetia and Abhkazia. Russia then recognized both regions as independent states and kept Russian forces in both areas, moves condemned by Georgia and the West.