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Georgia's partner in democracy: US

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Washington committed $2.4 million to help conduct Georgia's Nov. 2 election. But widespread fraud sparked the street protests that led to the storming of parliament on Saturday. It was part of a 10-year investment of $1.3 billion aimed at helping Georgia create a civil society.

Unlike pro-government parties, the opposition lapped up lessons in working together, using the media to spread its message, making a parallel vote tabulation - to provide credible "real" election results, to counter the falsified official returns - and in raising expectations of a free and fair vote.

NDI and other Western-funded groups also taught lessons from case studies - from the US civil rights movement to the revolutions of East Europe that caused the Soviet Union to collapse to the example of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade in 2000.

One result, says a Georgian observer who asked not to be named, is that "in many minds, the new leadership is equal to the USA." And indeed, some draw parallels to the long-term, targeted support that Washington gave to Yugoslav opposition parties, to unite and strengthen them enough to topple Mr. Milosevic, who Wednesday is defending himself at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

But a Western diplomat familiar with both cases says the Georgian example is one of "generic" democracy building, that did not aim to unseat Shevardnadze - a former Soviet foreign minister widely respected in the West for guiding the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union.

Still, protesters in Tbilisi drew some inspiration from the burning of parliament in Belgrade. The same clenched fist symbol used by Yugoslavia's Otpor student movement was evident on some banners, along with the order "Gotov Je!" which means in Serbian, "Get out!"

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