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Former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said Friday he is returning to his native Georgia to try to help save the republic from economic and political ruin.

Many Georgians hope that the comeback of the 64-year-old Shevardnadze, called the "White Fox" by his opponents, will propel their country out of the deepening chaos.Shevardnadze is seen as a leader who could unify various political factions, divided after the ouster of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. According to news reports, Shevardnadze is well ahead of other politicians in privately commissioned popularity polls.

But Gamsakhurdia supporters say Shevardnadze represents the centralist forces in Moscow and claim he orchestrated the armed revolt that removed Gam-sakhurdia from power in January, after two weeks of fighting in the capital of Tbilisi.

At a news conference on the eve of his return, Shevardnadze condemned Gamsakhurdia's regime as "authoritarian."

"Thankfully, the people understood it quite soon," he added.

Shevardnadze said he is planning to cooperate with a broad spectrum of political parties.