Georgia's president on Saturday named his powerful interior ministry chief as the ex-Soviet state's new prime minister in a surprise move ahead of important parliamentary polls in autumn.
President Mikheil Saakashvili said he was naming Vano Merabishvili to the premiership, a previously limited role that will become politically pivotal after constitional changes reduce the presidency's executive powers next year.
"Vano is a man who, together with us, managed to defeat crime and corruption," Saakashvili said in a televised statement.
Ivane Merabishvili has been interior minister since 2004 and is one of the country's most influential politicians.
He oversaw popular and internationally-praised police reforms which eradicated widespread bribe-taking but was also strongly criticised by the opposition for using force to break up demonstrations in 2011 and 2007.
"My main goal will be very concrete -- more benefits for the people," Merabishvili said on Georgian television after his appointment.
"The time has come for every single Georgian family to benefit from the outcomes of Georgia's modernisation and development," he said.
Saakashvili said that the previous prime minister, technocrat Nika Gilauri, would now lead efforts to increase foreign direct investment in Georgia.
Stressing social welfare issues ahead of this year's polls, Saakashvili said his new prime minister would tackle joblessness in the impoverished Caucasus state.
"I am confident that he will defeat our main enemy -- unemployment," Saakashvili said.
There has been no announcement so far about who will replace Merabishvili as interior minister.
Western ally Georgia goes to the polls to elect a new parliament in autumn, with the government facing a strong challenge from billionaire tycoon turned opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has vowed to oust Saakashvili's party.
Saakashvili, who was swept to power by the 2003 Rose Revolution, is due to step down in 2013 when his two-term presidential limit ends.