In brief, News

Abkhazia to ask EU to recognize homemade passports

by | February 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Abkhazia wants the EU to recognize the Georgian breakaway region's own passports as valid travel documents, just as is the case with North Cyprus. De facto foreign minister Viacheslav Chirikba said this February 8 after meeting Philip Dimitrov,

In brief, News

Ivanishvili takes part in street protest for the first time

by | February 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili calls for the government to investigate a police special operation in 2006 which took the lives of two young men. It's known as the Vazagashvili case and gathers a crowd every year at the spot near Paliashvili

In brief, News

Georgia notes record number of visitors, but are they tourists?

by | February 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia recorded a record number of visitors entering the country in January 2012. According to data from the Border Guard Department and the National Administration of Tourism, 227 006 international travelers entered the country in January, which is 41%

News

Georgian authorities go after election observers

by | February 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government of Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili has begun an unprecedented move to cut off the foreign funding of civil rights groups and election observers, because it believes that the groups are trying to affect the outcome of the election this fall.

Economy, News

As winter freeze hits Tbilisi, the garbage fee jumps

by | February 8, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Among all the other problems the weather is causing, Tbilisi citizens have one more worry: Their garbage fee has increased dramatically. A few months ago, a law amendment made the municipal garbage fee dependent on the electricity bill, so the more

In brief, News

Georgia hit by up to two meters of snow, schools closed

by | February 8, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Snowy weather is creating difficulties in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The whole country is currently covered with up to two meters of snow, but the transit of goods east-west is flowing normally. The international airport in Tbilisi says their

News

Tenser by the day in Tskhinvali, Moscow ambassador to run

by | February 8, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The situation in Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia ahead of a rescheduled elections is getting more strained day by day. The region's state security committee released a statement Wednesday warning of ‘possible provocations by Georgian special

Media, News

Why newspapers are sold from bicycle stands in Tbilisi

by | February 8, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - In the Georgian capital, news hungry citizens can now get their daily update from a bright red bicycle. The reason the new mobile newsstand is hitting the streets is that City Hall has removed many of the old permanent booths. Since last December, independent

News

New photo prohibition in Georgia’s parliament

by | February 8, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Journalists in Georgia will no longer be allowed to bring cameras into the session hall of the Parliament building. This is where plenary sessions are held. They will also be prevented from having cameras with them in the small meeting rooms where committee

In brief, News

Medvedev wants to reestablish trade relations with Georgia

by | February 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Russian President Dimitry Medvedev says the Russian and Georgian people should have relations and thinks it's therefore necessary to restore trade relation. The president made this statement on Monday during a meeting with his supporters. “We have

In brief, News

Saakashvili ducks issue of following in Putin’s footsteps

by | February 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - There is growing uncertainty about whether the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili may stay on as prime minister after the end of his second term as president. Yesterday, the editorial board of the Washington Post published a comment in which

Legal reform, News

New criminal procedure law doesn’t work: lawyers

by | February 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - It is one of Georgia's most touted reforms abroad, but now lawyers who have experienced it in practice warn that the overhauled Criminal Procedure Code of 2010 isn't working. The reform saw deep involvement by top legal expertise from

News

Kremlin favorite withdraws from South Ossetian election

by | February 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The situation in Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia is getting more complicated as both top candidates refuse to take part in a rescheduled election on March 25. Kremlin favorite Anatoly Bibilov says he refrains from taking part

News

Journalist’s home shot at in Tbilisi

by | February 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A shot was fired at a journalist's house in the Georgian capital Monday. No-one was injured. The journalist Khatuna Paichadze was at work when the shot rang out at around 14:00 local time. The bullet broke a window in her first floor flat in an Italian yard

In brief, News

Ban Ki-moon discussed security with Georgia’s foreign minister

by | February 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been in contact with the foreign minister of Georgia to discuss security issues. It's the country's deputy foreign minister Nikoloz Vashakidze who brings this information at a regular briefing on Monday.

In brief, News, World

Georgia does not consider role in US-Iran conflict

by | February 6, 2012

TBLISI, DFWatch - The Georgian Speaker of Parliament says that there is no talk of Georgia having a role in a potential conflict between Iran and the USA. Davit Bakradze was commenting a statement made earlier by the deputy secretary of the country's security council, Batu Kutelia,

News

Georgian youth learn English, and keep their Russian too

by | February 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - English is first priority for Georgian youth, but they might as well keep a basic knowledge of Russian too, just in case. Margo is getting ready to go abroad for a year through an exchange program, after graduating from university last summer, specializing in journalism.

In brief, News

Georgia’s Saakashvili: U.S. started sending troops in 2008 Russia war

by | February 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president says Russia stopped its attack in August 2008 after the United States started deploying forces to assist the small country. Mikheil Saakashvili was speaking to students at the U.S. Naval Academy February 3, a speech that was carried

News

Dzhioyeva prepares inauguration, asks candidates to withdraw

by | February 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A South Ossetian opposition leader calls for the other candidates to not take part in a rescheduled election March 25, calling it illegal, and instead recognize her as the legitimate head of government. Several candidates have registered with the Central

News

Georgia’s dead prime minister: The case that won’t go away

by | February 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Seven years after his death, the anniversary of Georgia's late prime minister Zurab Zhvania is still testimony to the fact that many refuse to accept the case as closed. Some of the youth who gathered in front of parliament in Tbilisi Friday bore

In brief, News

Europe’s biggest shopping mall just built, in Georgia

by | February 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president says Georgia already is the biggest trade hub in the Caucasus region and that the construction of Europe's biggest shopping center is just completed here. He made this statement during his speech at Georgetown University in Washington.

In brief, News

Georgia to boost defense following Saakashvili’s U.S. trip

by | February 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian Defense Minister signals that his country will strengthen its military capability. Bacho Akhalaia made the statement on February 2 after the meeting his U.S. counterpart Leon Panetta at a meeting of defense ministers among NATO

In brief, News

Saakashvili: New phase of military cooperation

by | February 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - “The military cooperation between Georgia and USA is entering a completely new stage, which means that Georgia will better protect itself,” Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili says. The president said this Thursday during his visit to the U.S. after meeting with

In brief, News

Saakashvili defends his government’s successes

by | February 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian president says the Georgian government has delivered on its promises. He said this during a speech at Georgetown University as part of his official visit to the U.S. this week. “Our economy has quadrupled. Crime has decreased fivefold. The poverty level has fallen

In brief, News

Increased public fees helped root out corruption: Saakashvili

by | February 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - During a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili said that his first presidential salary was 40 dollars and the state treasury was completely empty when he came to government in what is called the

News

A monk’s mysterious disappearance in Abkhazia

by | February 2, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The de facto head of the Abkhazian church Besarion Aplia confirms that a Georgian cleric was arrested in Abkhazia a few days ago. Aplia says the Georgian cleric didn’t have his documents in order. Georgia discussed this issue on Tuesday during a regular

News

Saakashvili says rose revolution can not be turned back

by | February 2, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili says the changes his country has been through can not be undone by himself nor anyone else. He was speaking at the US Institute of Peace on invitation from the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based

In brief, News

Russia-Georgia border hit by bad weather

by | February 2, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Snowfall and strong winds are making trouble for people all over Georgia. More than 72 000 were without electricity Thursday morning. The biggest distributor, Energo-Pro, said they had brought down the number of customers without power from 64 000 to around 49 000 by early afternoon. Motorists are heavily affected. Sections of some highways are closed in the east, according to a spokesman for the Regional Development and Infrastructure Ministry. Because of risk of avalanches, the road has been blocked in parts of the high mountainous area Kazbegi, the only road currently connecting Georgia to its northern neighbor Russia. The stretches of road between Stepantsminda-Lars and Gudauri-Kobi are closed, according to ministry spokesman Nugzar Gasviani, interviewed on Imedi TV. The Gudauri-Kobi road has been closed several times during the last year. Gasviani says only vehicles using skid chains will be allowed through. The bad weather has also created trouble in the vicinity of Tbilisi. According to Kakheti information center, the road Vaziani-Gombori-Telavi has been closed, and restrictions apply other places.

Media, News

Want new rules for media watchdog

by | February 2, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A civil rights group in Georgia wants a new set of rules to ensure that the country's media watchdog becomes more independent. Georgian Young Lawyer's Association (GYLA) last year criticized the present chair of the communications regulatory commission, Irakli Chikovani, for having a conflict of interest. In a study GYLA found that Ckikovani had refrained from acting against TV stations that showed more commercials than the rules allow. As 35% owner of the largest advertisement firm Magi Style, he stands to benefit from his own inaction. Now GYLA proposes a set of changes to make sure that future commission members will be more independent. Today, the Georgian president suggests three candidates to parliament, which then chooses one among them. GYLA proposes to appoint a group of media workers to find candidates for serving on the commission, instead of the president singlehandedly doing this. The group also proposes an option to have members of the communications regulatory commission dismissed, if twenty thousand signatures are gathered in support of such a demand. Another safeguard they propose is that any commission member shouldn't have worked within ...

News

Obama-Saakashvili debriefing with Tom de Waal

by | February 1, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - We asked Caucasus expert Tom de Waal a few questions following Monday's meeting between U.S. president Barack Obama and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili in Washington. de Waal is a journalist and writer, previously Caucasus editor of Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and now senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, focusing on the South Caucasus.   - Some words about your impressions after the Oval Office meeting.- I think the meeting went well in the sense that both sides got something that they wanted out of it. I thought the body language between the two was not as natural as it was between Saakashvili and George W. Bush. For President Saakashvili it was obviously important to get a meeting in the Oval Office in the first place. He also received warm words from Obama about Georgian reforms, a continuing commitment to Georgian NATO membership and US defense cooperation and the promise of a free trade agreement—which will obviously be much more important for Georgia than it will be for the United States. President Obama wanted to publicly thank ...

Media, News

Pressured Georgian media reaffirm defense group

by | February 1, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Media workers in the former Soviet republic of Georgia met Wednesday to reaffirm their mutual pledge to support eachother in case of harassment from authorities. “The main goal is to fight against illegal actions, protecting each other and solidarity when the media is in trouble,” says Mamuka Glonti, who took the initiative to the group. Glonti used to be producer at the independent TV station Maestro in Tbilisi, which was taken over by its largest investor with the help from authorities last November. Its journalists have since been broadcasting with little equipment from a different studio. Another reason for the creation of the group is a new plan by Tbilisi City Hall to replace kiosks in the capital which threatens to monopolize the distribution and sale of newspapers, and could represent a threat against freedom of speech. The group presented a memorandum January 20 which says that an attack on one member will be perceived as an attack on all, and they will take measures to protect eachother. 'Measures' will include protest rallies, appealing to foreign embassies and to the international community. Glonti ...

In brief, News

Saakashvili’s account of Obama meeting challenged

by | February 1, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president says the results of his meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama exceeded his expectations. President Mikheil Saakashvili said the issues he discussed with Obama at the White House Monday represent “a new and higher level of cooperation between the two countries; on the one hand military security and on the other hand in the economic spheres". “I want that we all acknowledge that this is unimaginably big thing for Georgian economy. The U.S. has a free trade agreement with its close partners and signing this agreement was very solid ground for a serious leap for each country,” he told journalists after the meeting. But Georgian political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze disagrees with what Saakashvili says and claims that there is nothing in the released material which gives grounds for such overjoyous statements. He says that the strategic partnership charter signed between Georgia and the U.S. in the wake of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war contained all the things that Saakashvili now touts as something new. “I think the charter mentioned this and this is a planned step forward. The second ...

In brief, News

U.S. to take more active role in building Georgia’s defense

by | February 1, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili says that his country's military cooperation with the United States is moving into a new phase. According Saakashvili's press spokesperson, America no longer only prepares Georgian forces for tasks like anti-terrorism or the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, but takes an active role in building Georgia's military capability. According to Giorgi Baramidze, state minister for European integration, this deepening of cooperation means providing weapons and equipment. Press spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze says U.S. president Barack Obama and Mr Saakashvili directly discussed how to improve Georgia's security, while meeting at the White House Monday. After their meeting Saakashvili told journalists that military cooperation for years had been within the frameworks of anti-terrorist operations or participation in Afghanistan and Iraq missions, but now the America will take an active role in developing Georgia's defense. He says meetings have been scheduled between appropriate officials from the two countries to further deepen military cooperation. Manjgaladze says Georgia's National Security Council Secretary will hold a meeting with representatives of the U.S. defense department, and in the near future there will also be a meeting bewteen the ...

News

South Ossetian peace is fragile, say leaders

by | February 1, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The leadership of Georgia's breakaway region South Ossetia say an opposition politician's quest to claim election victory threatens a fragile peace and may have serious consequences. Authorities released the statement after talks with opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva, who has been campaigning on and off to claim victory after an election in November which she clearly won, but which the Supreme Court cancelled. A compromise seemed to calm things down over the holidays, but Dzhioyeva withdrew from the deal last Sunday and proclaimed that she will have her own inauguration February 10. South Ossetia's leadership calls for people not to obey Dzhioyeva in carring out acts of civil disobedience and not to go beyond the bounds of law, Russian media report. Dzhioyeva held another round of consultations with acting president Vadim Brovtsev on Monday to try to solve the problems South Ossetia are facing, but yet again talks ended without agreement. The acting president states he’s not going to fulfill Dzhioyeva’s demand and transfer power to her. “According to the constitution of the republic I’m the acting president I have to fulfill my duties ...

In brief, News

Obama and Georgia’s Saakashvili did not discuss Iran

by | January 31, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - According to the Georgian president’s administration, Iran was not on the agenda of Monday's meeting between U.S. president Barack Obama and president Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia. Before the meeting many had been speculating that the two would be discussing the increased tension between Iran and the U.S., especially in light of how close Georgia is to Iran. But Saakashvili's press spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze said at her regular briefing Tuesday that Iran had not been a topic during the talks. “This issue wasn't on the agenda at all, accordingly it couldn’t have become the subject to review. The issue regarding Iran or any new operation wasn’t discussed,” she said.

News

Obama’s ‘transfer of power’ comment discussed in Tbilisi

by | January 31, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Political Tbilisi is grabbing on to a phrase used by U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday after meeting the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili about having a transfer of power after this falls parliamentary election in Georgia. “I want to express my appreciation for the work that’s been done in the past, but also anticipating fair and free elections here; the formal transfer of power that will be taking place in Georgia, which I think will solidify many of these reforms that have already taken place,” Barack Obama said at a press conference after the two had met at the Oval Office of the White House. Authorities in Georgia have tried today to explain when Obama meant by the phrase ‘formal transfer of power’. Akaki Minashvili, head of parliament's foreign relation committee, says that the phrase transfer of powers means that the government will be transferred to the force that wins the election. “It’s not logical that the USA advised someone on who should come into government. In this case President Obama meant that the government should be transferred to that political ...

News

Obama talks about free trade after meeting Saakashvili

by | January 31, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - U.S. President Barack Obama said after hosting the Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili in the Oval Office Monday that the United States will explore various trading options, including the possibility of a free trade agreement. The president made it clear that there still is a lot of work to be done and that a lot of options will have to be explored. Monday's meeting had been eagerly awaited among Tbilisi's political circles. Beforehand, the White House announced that the two leaders would be discussing strengthening relations following a strategic partnership signed in the wake of the Georgia-Russia war of August 2008. In his comments to journalists, President Obama expressed his appreciation for the work Georgia has done building democratic institutions and made reference to the importance of protecting minorities as well as the importance of a police and a rule of law that is observed. Many observers have noted the possibility of a potential "Putin scenario" in Georgia. The American president noted that he was anticipating the formal transfer of power after elections this fall, which would solidify many of the reforms ...

News

Whose election campaign will Georgia-U.S. summit benefit?

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - People in Georgia are looking forward to today’s meeting between the U.S. and Georgian presidents in Washington, both of whom are near the end of their terms. Analysts speculate that the summit may be part of either of their election campaigns, or is payback for Saakashvili accepting Russia as a member of the World Trade Organizations last year. Most agree that when Saakashvili walks out of the White House later today, he will carry with him another confirmation for U.S. support for Georgia and a warning to Russia. Some in Tbilisi also hope Obama will ask Saakashvili to conduct this fall’s election in a democratic way. The first official meeting between Barack Obama and Mikheil Saaksavhili will be held at the Oval Office in the White House. The Georgian President is already in Washington, having left for the U.S. on January 25. According to the White House website, the two presidents will discuss strengthening relations in trade, tourism, energy, science, education, culture and security, within the framework of the strategic partnership charter signed in 2009. President Obama will underline the importance of ...

News

Georgian youth: Learn the truth about our country

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - As the presidents of the United States and Georgia are preparing for their first meeting in Washington, Georgian youth groups today rallied in front of the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi. Their message was that American authorities need to know more about what’s really going on in this country and not believe what Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is saying. Activist Zaza Svanide described him as an English-speaking president who is talking all the time about how everything is all right here. “If Barack Obama is meeting our president today, he should know who he is dealing with,” Svanidze said. In an appeal to the U.S. embassy, the youth activists said that the USA doesn’t have enough information of what’s really happening in Georgia, meaning the numerous problems media are facing, human rights violations, the situation in the penitentiary system and other areas. “Mr Bass [U.S. ambassador to Georgia], we want you to bring [U.S. authorities] information about the discriminatory democracy in Georgia,” Svanidze said. The activists wanted the ambassador to inform the U.S. administration about the real picture in Georgia: terrible problems in ...

Elections, News

Georgia increases subsidy for political ads

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government in Georgia increases the state funding of political TV ads to create a more level playing field for this year’s election. But analysts say it’s not enough. An extra 2.2 million laris, or nearly 1.3 million US dollars, will be set aside in the state budget for subsidized political advertisements. The money will be distributed among twelve parties which garnered enough votes in the local elections in 2010. Parties in Georgia already receive a state subsidy for buying air time, but government says that increasing the amount will be an extra lever to create an equal electoral environment. But commentators claim the measure is not enough and if the prices of political advertisement aren’t regulated, releasing this money cannot bring the desired results. Pavle Kublashvili, head of the parliament judiciary committee, says that the 30Th article of the law about political union of the citizens will have a new twelfth article, where there will be written that during the electoral period the qualified subjects will be allocated extra money for TV commercials. Subsidizing the TV commercials of political parties ...

News

Historic Tbilisi square was dying, springs to life

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Gudiashvili square in central Tbilisi seemed dying for years, but in the last month has had a revival thanks to a protest against new plans to modernise it. Every other Sunday, protesters gather at the Gudiashvili, which lies just behind Freedom Square, as a symbol of protest against the people responsible for the fate of the square, which to most non-Georgians is probably best known as the location of Cafe Pur Pur. The square is facing an uncertain future, after plans surfaced to renovate the historic face of the square and old buildings which today are barely standing. The fourth demonstration took place this Sunday. People coming by are already ready for the various shows, performances and short concerts they can enjoy here. Four years ago the population in the buildings encircling the square were resettled because the houses were structurally insecure. Until today, no reinforcement works have been done to solve this problem. This is the first and main request of the demonstrators: to immediately carry out work to save the buildings before it is too late. The second problems is ...

News

Russian company patented Georgian wines in Germany

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has reclaimed three brand names of wine that had been patented in Germany by a Russian company. The company, Moscow Wine and Spirits Company GmbH, had been selling the wine brands Tsinandali, Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara. Irakli Ghvaladze, head of Sakpatent, Georgia's intellectual property agency, says these brands are of Georgian origin and have been Georgian property for centuries. In 2011 Sakpatent became aware that the Russian company had registered the brandnames with the German patent and trademark office. Last year Georgia reclaimed the trademark of Khvanchkara from the U.S. patent office, which had granted the rights to use it to Dozortsev & Sons. According to the agreement, all rights to use the Khvanchkara trademark in the United States have been transferred to Georgia, which means that no one will have the right to import goods and sell it on the American market under this name without Georgia’s permission. The Georgian patent agency discovered Dozortsev & Sons's patent while trying to register 18 Georgian wine brands in the U.S. One of them, Khvanchkara, turned out to be already patented by Dozortsev ...

News

New deadlock in South Ossetian leadership contest

by | January 29, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - South Ossetian opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva wants to have her inauguration on February 10. The location for the ceremony has not been announced. “I appeal to the acting president of South Ossetia requesting that the transfer of power is done in a civilized way, as fits a legally elected president,” Russian news agency Ria Novosti quotes her as saying. Dzhioyeva has written several letters to the acting president Vadim Brovtsev, but says she didn’t receive an answer from him, but from the press office of the president, which said that her actions were destructive. In November 2011 two candidates competed in the second round of the so-called presidential elections in South Ossetia: opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva and Anatoly Bibilov, the Kremlin favorite. Preliminary results showed Dzhioyeva clearly winning. But the South Ossetian Supreme Court annulled the results after receiving a complaint, and announced a repeat election on March 25. Dzhioyeva refused to accept this and mobilized her supporters on a square in front of the government building in Tskhinvali. After ten days, a compromise deal was put forth by president Eduard Kokoity ...

In brief, News

Georgia hopeful about new ‘Swiss’ border checks

by | January 28, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian Speaker of Parliament Davit Bakradze hopes that Switzerland will be able to fully monitor the flow of goods across the border between Georgia and Russia. Bakradze said this at a meeting with the delegation of the Swiss Foreign Affairs Department. Russia occupied parts of Georgia's territories after the war in August 2008. Georgia has been striving for a control regime for the flow of goods across these border. After Swiss-hosted negotiations last year about Russia's WTO accession, an agreement was made that Georgia would accept Russia as a member of the Word Trade Organizations in return for a new control regime on the border to be run by a private company overseen by Swiss authorities. Bakradze says the Swiss side played an important role in the negotiations about WTO and now it is important for Georgia that the achieved agreement will be fully implemented. “Switzerland has a crucial importance and function in the issue of monitoring of goods and it is important for us that goods be fully monitored on the Georgia-Russia border; also that Georgia has complete information ...

News

Georgia’s ruling party responds to trickery accusation

by | January 28, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian speaker of parliament says lawmakers never rubber-stamp laws after receiving advice from the Council of Europe. Davit Bakradze was responding to criticism from a think tank that the ruling party manipulated the legislative process by changing a law after it had been submitted to the Council of Europe for advice. He said Friday: ‘after the commission's conclusion, certain changes will always be made to the bill, because it’s an issue for review in parliament.’ Bakradze's comments came as a response to statements by the CoE's Venice Commission chair Tomas Markert, who says that the Georgian parliament voted over a version of a bill which is significantly different from the version they had seen. The draft of the changes to the law was sent to the Venice Commission in November of 2011. But the draft was significantly changed after the Venice Commission had finished its review of it. During the parliamentary debate a completely new concept was introduced, that of ‘connected person’, which means someone who is connected to a political grop. There was also made an innovative change which made ...

Environment, News

Two thousand villagers waiting to know when to move

by | January 28, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Villagers in Upper Svaneti are waiting for a report which is supposed to guarantee their forced resettlement follows a democratic process. But the country's energy minister said in December that no matter what the results are of the environmental and social impact assessment, the Khudoni hydropower project will be built. Khudoni, or Khudonhesi as it is known in the Georgian language, is a project which was developed in the late Soviet era. It would harvest more of the energy in the steep valleys in Western Georgia which already harbors Europe's largest hydropower dam, Enguri. Popular protest stopped the project in the late 1980s, in which former prime minister Zurab Zhvania played a key role. There are concerns about the massive scale of the project, which will alter the microclimate of the area, as well as displace thousands of people. In recent times, the project has been revitalized with support from the World Bank. But if international standards are to be adhered to, there must be an impact assessment. The company which has been tasked with building Khudoni has ordered such a ...

Legal reform, News

Confusion sets in over Georgian election reform

by | January 27, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - As Georgia is heading for potentially the first real competitive election, confusion arose Friday over different versions of the same law. A think tank says the government significantly changed a draft law which was sent to the Council of Europe (CoE) for advice. The Georgian Development Research Institute, which was founded in November 2011, says that the CoE's advisory body called the Venice Commission saw another version of the draft law on political associations of citizens than the one the government made available to parliament. The one that was finally passed in December violates the country’s constitution and other parts of its legislation. The think tank says it will contact the Venice Commission about the issue. In December the law about political associations of citizens was changed so that rules that previsously only applied to party financing now applies also to organizations, private companies and even individuals which have an aim of impacting the political process. Analysts say that with the new law, if a person does a party a favor or expresses sympathy for a politician, all the restrictions about party ...

Environment, News

Georgia allows hunting of endangered species

by | January 27, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia allows hunting of rare animal species, which could lead to their extinction, environmentalists claim. The legislative changes will also allow hunting in protected areas. Hunting and protection of species is regulated by a kind of laws used under the Soviet Union called normative acts and decrees. The law doesn’t directly says one can kill an animal which is on the Red List, but new normative acts now say that authorities may decide what number of animals can be allowed to be killed. “The decision about allowed amount of harvesting endangered wild animals is made by the Environment Minister based on an individual administrative-legal act,” the law says. The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources issued a decree which now allows obtaining animals of certain species, including animals that are on the Red List, a list compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, showing the extinction risk of species. The ministry defines the allowed amount of harvesting certain animals, including ones that are about extinction. Specifically, the following: coypu - 194 animals, rabbits - 615 animals, badger - 168 animals, ...

News

Georgian authorities accuse opposition movement of fraud

by | January 27, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian authorities accuse the opposition movement of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili of making a fraudulent business deal. The claim is put forth in a statement posted on the web pages of the Chamber of Control's financial monitoring unit, signed by its head Natia Mogeladze. Her unit has been controlling Mr Ivanishvili's movement since the start of January, following a change in the law which made the same rules that regulate party financing also apply to private companies, organizations and even individuals, if they have a stated aim of affecting the political process. Many commentators and groups opposed these changes, because the constitution says that the Chamber of Control only has a right to monitor publicly financed organizations and doesn’t have a right to impose sanctions. The new law gave the CoC power to monitor organizations that are not publicly financed and to impose sanctions, including sequestration. Only courts and the revenue service had this prerogative before, though only in certain cases. Despite that it seems to violate the constitution, the government approved these changes and after the CoC established a financial monitoring ...

News

Georgia asks Russia to close embassies in breakaway regions

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president says diplomatic relations with Russia will only be restored if Russia closes its illegal embassies in Georgia’s two breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Mikheil Saakashvili's statement comes as a response to what Russian president Dimitry Medevedev said Wednesday; that he wants to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia, but only if he won’t have to shake hands with 'one person', understood to mean Mr Saakashvili. Russian officials a number of times have said that the Georgian president is unacceptable and they refuse to talk to him. Diplomatic relations with Russia and Georgia suspended after the war in 2008, when Russia occupied Georgian territories. “We are absolutely ready to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia. We hadn’t stopped it. There is only one person I don’t want to have business with. Probably you know, who I am talking about, I won’t meet him and shake his hand,’ Medvedev said. “It’s unclear what they mean by Georgia. Is this Georgia for them in the internationally recognized borders or is this Georgia without the territories occupied by them?” Saakashvili's press spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze ...

In brief, News

Georgia answers Medvedev’s invitation: ‘Any time’

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s foreign minister says his country never refused to restore negotiations with Russia. Grigol Vashadze made the statement during a session of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, while answering a question from an MP from the Netherlands. After a speech by Vashadzem the Dutch MP wanted to know what his views were on how to restore negotiations with Russia. Russian president Dimitry Medvedev earlier Wednesday said during a meeting with students that Russia wants to restore diplomatic relations with the Georgian government, but not with the Georgian president. Asnwering the question from the Dutch MP, Vashadze said: “We never say no to negotiations. We are ready for it any time, any place, but first of all we should know the goal of the negotiations and what structure it will have.” Another MP in the Council of Europe was interested in how the dialogue will be done while Russia refuses to have the relations with the current government of Georgia. “The Russian government doesn’t want to talk to the democratically elected Georgian government. After the elections in 2012-2013, when a new government ...

In brief, News

Medvedev wants to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Russian president Dimitry Medvedev says he wants to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia. But the president adds, only if he won’t have to shake hands with one person. That one person is understood to be Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. Diplomatic relations with Russia and Georgia suspended after the war in 2008, when Russia occupied Georgian territories. Russian officials have said a number of times told that the Georgian president is unacceptable for them and refused to communicate with him. Medvedev made this statement on a meeting with students on January 25. “We are absolutely ready to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia. We didn't break them off. There is only one person I don’t want to have business with. You probably know who I am talking about, I won’t meet him and shake his hand,’ Medvedev said. Regarding other politicians and officials, and the Georgian people, the Russian president claims that he 'very much wants the estrangement phase to be finished as soon as possible'. “Several steps have been already taken in this direction. Specifically, flights are restored between the two countries. It’s necessary to ...

News

Report: Press freedom is declining in Georgia

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia is no longer the leading country in the South Caucasus in terms of media freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders. Georgia is on a shared 104th place among the 179 countries listed. Last year, Georgia was number 100 on Press Freedom Index, as the ranking list is called. This year's lower ranking is explained as a result of the handling of events surrounding May 26, 2011, when police violently dispersed a peaceful anti-government rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi. “Georgia is paying the price for the violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration in May and the persistent harassment of journalists and bloggers suspected of sympathizing with Russia,” the report says. It was just past midnight May 26 when police moved in to clear the area in front of parliament to make way for a military parade in the morning to mark Georgia's independence day. With this as justification, the government sent in police and other forces which exerted violence towards people who were there, using tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and a sonic weapon. Four people died; ...

News

Ex-pilots left without compensation despite Supreme Court backing

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A group of about ten former pilots demand compensation from the government. For several years now they haven't received their compensation, they say, not even after Supreme Court ruled in their favor. Wednesday the retired pilots gathered in front of the president's residence and started a hunger strike, demaning compensation, and the state established a pension for former pilots. “It doesn’t matter where I will die -here or at home, in poverty and hunger,” one of the aviators told journalists. “I will fight for my rights.” The pilots say they do not receive pension, but compensation, amounting to from 108 to 135 lari, which is not enough even to buy medicine. Around two hundred pilots are waiting for the money to be paid, totaling several thousand lari for some. Opposition parliamentarians expressed support to the group and promised to help. “Our aim is that they receive these compensations while they’re still alive, because their number is decreasing day by day,” Interpressnews quotes member of parliament Dimitry Lortkipanidze as saying. He demanded to meet with government representatives regarding the issue, and later had a meeting with ...

News

Firewood in Georgia: burning the candle in both ends

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgians use nine times more wood than what is sustainable, according to a new study. If nothing is done, it will lead to a catastrophe, according to Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN). Annual firewood consumption, measured in energy output, is 12 billion kWh, while the sustainable level in Georgia is only 1.3 billion kWh. Georgia has great renewable energy potential -- wind, sun, biomass, hydro power and geothermal -- but today imports around 70% of its energy. Among the renewables, the country has only made use of its hydro power. There are more than 26 000 rivers in Georgia, but according to the Energy Ministry, three hundred rivers have energy importance. Their average annual energy is around 50 billion kWh equivalents. According to the CENN report, besides the big hydro power potential in the country, only the small projects are considered renewable energy potential. Among the plans, the economically realistic projects amount to around 5 billion kWh, or around 6-8%. Wood is also one of the main energy sources in Georgia. Despite the fact that natural gas is now distributed by pipes to ...

In brief, News

Saakashvili to also meet Biden and Boehner

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili plans to meet other top people while he's over to talk with President Obama, including the Vice President and the House Speaker. While in Washington, President Saakashvili will have meetings with other top people both in the U.S.'s legislative and executive branch, including Vice President Joe Biden and John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Next Monday's meeting between the Georgian and American presidents will be important in many regards, noted president Mikheil Saakashvili's press spokesperson Tuesday. She says that the U.S.' support has been important for the protection of Georgian independence and sovereignty for the last 20 years. Manana Manjgaladze also emphasized that the support has been important for the country’s democratic reforms and economic development, and the success of Georgia on the way to NATO integration. The meeting between Barack Obama and Mikheil Saakashvili will be held on January 30 at the White House. Topis for discussion will be defense and security issues, strengthening democratic reforms, and cooperation on a number of areas, including economy, energy and trade. The two sides will discuss deepening existing ...

In brief, News

Georgian president questions Human Rights Watch report

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, says through his press speaker that he may not agree with everything Human Rights Watch (HRW) is writing about his country. HRW's World Report 2011 is sharp in its criticism of the situation in Georgia, much of which revolves around the police operation to clear a peaceful protest in front of parliament on the night of 26 May. The organization points to shortcomings of the justice system, both in terms of not protecting the rights of those who were exposed to police brutality that night, including journalists, but also in not launching a single criminal investigation against policemen, although sixteen were disciplined and four of them dismissed. Furthermore, the influential group makes reference to the spy charges against four journalists in July, a case which is still classified and was settled by a plea bargain agreement, and the unscheduled audit of the media company Palitra. Both cases are by some seen as retribution for journalists covering the police brutality on May 26, HRW notes. President Saakashvili's press speaker says his administration carefully studies all information regarding ...

News

Ivanishvili’s wife gets back her Georgian citizenship

by | January 24, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Ekaterine Khvedelidze, wife of Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, is a Georgian citizen again, after the president decided not to appeal a court ruling. This paves the way for the Ivanishvili couple to formally register a political party and run in the election this fall. On December 27 Tbilisi City Court ruled partly in favor of a lawsuit lodged by Mr Ivanishvili and found a presidential decree partly unlawful. The decree robbed the couple of their Georgian citizenship, which made it illegal for them to engage in politics. President Mikheil Saakashvili had until today to appeal the ruling. Eka Beselia, one of the lawyers of Ivanishvili said after the December 27 court ruling that it was a victory and she and the rest of Ivanishvili's legal team are going to fight until the citizenship of Ivanishvili will also is restored. Archil Kbilashvili, another of Ivanishvili’s lawyers, claims that they have appealed the other part of the court ruling to the Appeal's Court; the decision to not restore the businessman’s citizenship. Ivanishvili's lawyers are following a plan, they say. The businessman has already appealed to ...

In brief, News

Kitsmarishvili lost suit to claim Ivanishvili TV

by | January 24, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tbilisi City Court did not grant Rustavi Media Management Company's request to sequester TV Company Igrika ltd. The reason is that Igrika ltd is no more the property of Ilia Kikabidze, general director of the independent TV company Maestro. A week ago Eroski Kitsmarishvili's Rustavi Media Management Company went to court, demanding to seize Igrika ltd because of damages to personal property. The story around Maestro events begin in December 2011, after Kitsmarishvili intruded into the company building, fired the directors and refused to leave. The police sided with him and helped in evicting the journalists from the building, and there has since been a frozen stand-off with Maestro broadcasting from a radio studio. Maestro was seized by Tbilisi City Court a month and a half ago, after Kitrsmarishvili requested it. Then there's another TV station called Igreka, that recently surfaced in the news when ownership of it was transferred to the company Aktsept one week ago. The latter is the property of opposition financier Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze. Recently it became known that people around Ivanishvili have decided to found ...

Media, News

Georgians still trust their TV, despite hoax of the century

by | January 24, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Time Magazine called it one of the greatest hoaxes in history. But 33% of Georgians still trust the channel that scared them out of their wits. That's one the findings Eurasian Partnership Foundation's program called Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) presented Monday. Internationally it's called the hoax news, but locally it is known as the 'simulated Kronika'. This was an enacted report aired on Imedi in March 2010, which purported to show that a few opposition politicians had staged a coup, and Russia had intervened militarily. The fact that it was broadcast in the regular news slot with the same news presenter and identical graphics as a normal 'Kronika', led many to believe that it was real news, which caused a massive panic in the country. Producers considered running a continuous banner warning that it was enacted, but president Saakashvili told them not to do it, because the report would lose its effect, according to a phone recording verified as authentic by British forensic experts. The day this program went on air is etched into the memories of most people. It ripped ...

News

Crisis avoided in South Ossetian power struggle

by | January 23, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The South Ossetian opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva calls off her protest and enters talks with the regime. Dzhioyeva said that consultations between the opposition and authorities will continue, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. On November 17 she withdrew from a compromise agreement and gave acting president Vadim Brovtsev until today to meet a list of demands, or else she would claim election victory. After meeting with Brovtsev today, Dzhioyeva decided to call off the protest and continue talks. "There was a constructive dialogue today, and we agreed with Brovtsev to continue it. Today is the first time I have heard the question: what are my suggestions to resolve the political crisis," Dzhioyeva said. Preliminary results gave the opposition leader a clear victory over assumed Kremlin favorite Anatoly Bibilov in in the November 27 run-off in the so-called presidential elections. But after a complaint about violations, the Supreme Court of South Ossetia annulled the results and rescheduled a new election for March 25. This caused Dzhioyeva's supporters to launch a rally which created a tense situation until an agreement was achieved which involved ...

In brief, News

Ruling party mobilizing, gathering passport numbers

by | January 23, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia's ruling party has already started mobilizing supporters, before a date for the parliamentary election has been announced. Georgian newspaper Mteli Kvira reports that the National Movement Party has begun compiling lists of of supporters around the various districts of Tbilisi. Party activists are going round collecting passport numbers of people who are ready to vote for the ruling party in the upcoming election. The newspaper has asked several independent election commentators who say that there doesn't seem to be anything illegal with the ruling party's mobilization. Activists go from door to door and build up a list of people who promise that when they enter the voting booth, presumably sometime in October, they will circle the number of the the National Movement of president Mikheil Saakashvili. Non-governmental organizations working on electoral issues say the Election Code does not prohibit this, but it depends on what way this list is used. Previous elections have been blighted by various kinds of pressure being exerted on voters and by vote-buying.

News

A day in the life… of ‘Misha’

by | January 23, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Saturday was just another day for president Mikheil Saakashvili. But it dominated the news on Georgian national TV channels. The news was simply put that the president visited Rustavi, a small city just south of the capital Tbilisi, to talk to the locals about how things are going. This news story took up the first 55 minutes on Imedi's 5 o' clock news and the first 40 minutes on Rustavi 2, in both cases without commercial break. The president decided to walk from block to block in Rustavi and talk to people about what has changed, what has been built and plans for further development. He visited four big yards in Rustavi and held impromtu discussions. Both channels showed the entire conversations. One shot lasting for about fifteen minutes was the president standing in front of a building surrounded by a crowd of people asking questions, thanking him and receiving answers. Several minutes of it was just the crowd shouting ‘Misha’ (president Saakashvili's nickname). Another scene showed a wide circle of people sitting and listening while the president stood inside the circle ...

In brief, News

Georgia will support West in case of Iran crisis

by | January 22, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian parliamentarian from the governing party says his country will support the West in case of a confrontation between Iran and the U.S. Davit Darchiashvili, head of the Euro-integration committee, says that ‘in case of an Iran-U.S. confrontation, Georgia’s choice will be clear’, which means that ‘Georgia will be with its international democratic partners.’ The MP was being asked questions January 20 from journalists about what Georgia will do if there is a war between the U.S. and Iran. “Everything is possible, but it’s unlikely that Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz and stop the rest of the world's access to oil supplies,” Darchiashvili said. On the other hand, in his opinion they will be thinking of a compromise in Iran. But in case of global tension and a confrontation, ‘Georgia’s choice will be very clear – to be together or against its international democratic partners. But I don’t think it will come to this.’ According to him, blocking off international transportation is considered one of the biggest crimes and if any country does this, serious steps will be taken ...

News

Crisis in South Ossetia as candidate withdraws from compromise

by | January 22, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The winner in South Ossetia's cancelled election says she will not participate in the rescheduled election March 25. Instead, Alla Dzhioyeva told a crowd in Tskhinvali Saturday, she’s going to claim the presidency and hold her own inauguration. The exact date for the ceremony will be decided after January 23. “If we don’t receive an answer from acting president Vadim Brovtsev of South Ossetia, I will gather you once more and appoint the date of the official inauguration,” Dzhioyeva told the crowd. November 27 there weas a run-off in the so-called presidential elections with Alla Dzhioyeva pitted against Anatoly Bibilov. Dzhioyeva is considered opposition and Bibilov claimed to be the Kremlin favorite. During the final stages of vote counting it became clear that Dzhioyeva was going to win, however the Supreme Court of South Ossetia annulled the results of the elections, and declared it invalid. A new election was scheduled for March 25. This caused Dzhioyeva supporters to launch a permanent rally which lasted for ten days, until an agreement was achieved which involved that president Eduard Kokoity, whose term has ...

News

Urges UNESCO to Abkhazia to save 10th century fresco

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia is ready to make an exception from the travel restrictions and let a UNESCO mission enter Abkhazia in order to save a historical monument. According to Georgian legislation, the only way to legally enter or exit Abkhazian territory is by asking permission from Georgian authorities and cross over from Georgian territory. However, the authorities in Abkhazia are not willing to let a UNESCO team enter from Georgia. What is at stake is Bedia Monastery, built by the first king of a united Georgia, Bagrat III Bagration at the end of the tenth century, in 999. This complex was one of the cultural centers of Georgia for centuries and had its own library. Even more important, it has the only existing fresco of the first king of a united Georgia. Georgia in 2008 expressed concern about the possibility that the monument could be destroyed, when there was information that Russia was going to conduct restoration works on historical monuments in Abkhazia. Video footage was broadcasted by the Abkhazian TV channel Абаза showing that the walls and frescos of the monastery were already painted, ...

News

Georgian media sign treaty for common defense

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Independent Georgian media units Friday signed a memorandum of mutual defense, vowing that any harassment on any of its member will lead to coordinated action by all the others. It comes after a crisis at the small independent TV station Maestro, which is still broadcasting under emergency conditions; the result of a complicated dispute which some claim is being orchestrated by the government. The former producer of Maestro called for solidarity and proposed forming a common platform for defense against future attacks. A draft memorandum was worked out, and Friday finally signed. It's called Solidarity for Freedom of the Media, and gathers fourteen media outlets under its umbrella. These are: Alia Holding, Rezonansi, internet news site Presage.tv, media unit Obiektivi, Media Palitra, Asaval-Dasavali, radio company Sakartvelos Khma, TV company Sakartvelos Khma, newspaper Versia, magazine Ghia Boklomi, Bankebi da Pinansebi, TV Company Maestro, and radio Maestro. There still is time for other media to join in, as the final agreement will be signed on February 1 and is open for late-comers until then. The main idea is to establish a strategy for media ...

News

Saakashvili: Prime Minister Putin is panicking

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - President Mikheil Saakashvili says it's the Georgian nation the government of Russia has problems with, not the Georgian government, like it claims. Saakashvili's statement was a response to an appearance by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Wednesday, when he criticized one of his opponents because of his Georgian origin. Putin had gathered together leading Russian editors for a frank, no-holds-barred-chat that ended with the microphones being cut during an exchange with the editor of independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, with the PM accusing the editor of pouring diarrhea over him. Putin criticized Ekho Moskvy for supporting the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in Georgia and said that if the anti-missile system were to be deployed in Georgia, Russia would be forced to aim its offensive weapons on Georgia. While discussing the country's relationship with Georgia, the Russian PM said he is ready to find a way out of the strained relationship by working together with Georgian civil society. The debate comes as Mr Putin is trying to build momentum for his election campaign in the midst of a wave of ...

In brief, News

Georgia not in talks about U.S. missile shield

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze says there are currently no negotiations with the United States about deployment of missile defense installations on the territory of Georgia. After the announcement of a meeting between the presidents of the U.S. and Georgia on January 30, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke about the possibility of the U.S. deploying parts of its anti-missile system in Georgia. The Georgian government didn’t comment what PM Putin said. But both the parliament majority and part of the opposition say that they would have supported the deployment of such installations, while making it clear that they do not know about such negotiations. "On this level it’s not foreseen to review such issues," Nino Kalandadze told DF Watch on January 20. She added that there is an expectation that at the meeting between the presidents ‘priorities will be given to issues important to Georgia’.

News

Perilous work should be compensated, union says

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Nearly 18 000 employees in Georgia work under stressful or hazardous conditions, according to the Georgian Trade Unions, which suggests compensating them for financial loss due to early retirement. In many dangerous professions, there is a mandated upper age limit, but no compensation for the loss of income until they reach pension age, which is 65 for men. Firemen, for example, are not allowed to work after 55. They find it hard to find new work after serving 20 years or more in a specialized job. “I think neither you, I nor anyone can imagine a 65-year old miner or 65-year old pilot. These are professions in Georgia which do not have the possibility to stay in the job until pension age, because of the age requirements,” Irakli Petriashvili, head of the Georgian Trade Unions told DF Watch. Now the Georgian Trade Unions suggests compensating people who retire early from stressful jobs., and has worked out a bill they want lawmakers to look at. The union suggests to calculate the compensation on the basis of work experience. If a person has a salary ...

News

Freedom House: Georgian politics is on early 90s level

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - American human rights group Freedom House indicates that Georgian democracy has not recovered from the backlash, but remains at a comparable level to right after independence. Seen overall, the trend is that democracy is improving, but in the wake of the turbulence which Georgia experienced a few years ago it is still on the same level as in 1993 when it comes to the indicator for political rights. In terms of how citizens are able to participate through elections, Freedom House gives Georgia a 4, the same rating as last year in terms of democracy. The scale goes from 1 to 7, with 1 being the best score. Overall, Georgia is among the 60 countries (31%) out of 195 surveyed that are categorized as partly free. The country is not considered an electoral democracy by the organization, which is influential in setting the agenda for debate about democracy building internationally. Georgia has been considered an electoral democracy through most of its time since independence in 1991, but lost the status briefly in 2004, then it regained it after the Rose Revolution, but in the ...

In brief, News

Four Georgian survivors from ‘Edirne’ return today

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The four surviving Georgian crew members from a Turkish tanker that sank off the coast of Albania will return home today. Avto Basiladze, Koba Partenadze, Vladimer Varshanidze and Ioseb Katamadze were flown from Tirana to Istanbul yesterday and were given further medical examinations there before returning to Batumi sometime today. One Georgian is confirmed dead; Beka Urushadze, as well as the ship’s Azerbaijani captain, Khayyam Mammadov. Another Georgian, Malkhaz Lazishvili, is still missing. There are currently negotiations about the transfer of Urushadze’s body. The Turkish tanker Edirne had just unloaded three thousand tons of fuel January 16 and was about to leave Durres harbor in Albania when there was a massive explotion on board. Preliminary examinations indicate that the cause of the explotion was failure to vent the the tanks after unloading the fuel, according to Trend.az. Fourteen people were on board, of Turkish, Azerbaijani, Ukrainian and Georgian origin.  

News, Security

Tbilisi welcomes missile defense despite warning

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian parliamentarian from the governing party welcomes the idea of Georgia as location for parts of the U.S. missile defense system. Davit Darchiashvili, who heads parliament’s EU integration committee, said it while commenting statements by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that if America places parts of its missile defense in Georgia, it would force Russia to aim its offensive weapons at Georgia. The idea of Georgia as location for missile defense was floated one year ago by a group of U.S. senators, because Turkey demanded that if a radar were to be located in that country, information should not be shared with Israel. „We believe the Republic of Georgia’s geographical location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran“, the senators wrote. Georgia did not immedately respond, but in a September interview with Newsweek, president Mikheil Saakashvili said he would accept a missile defense radar in his country. Darchiashvili doesn’t have any information about the perspectives of the placement of these systems in Georgia. He says such issues are not his area of competence, ...

In brief, News

Abkhazian leader opposed to neutral passports

by | January 19, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The leader of Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia is opposed to so-called neutral passports being introduced. Neutral identity papers is a form of documentation used in Georgia for persons who are from the breakaway parts. Last summer Georgia’s parliament introduced a neutral passport that may be offered for people who live in Abkhazia. Today, most inhabitants in the region hold an Abkhazian passport, but it is of little use when travelling internationally, because it is only valid in Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru. Many also hold a Russian passport. The issue of passports and citizenship is a source of friction also for ordinary people. Abkhaz authorities have promoted, or by some accounts forced, the use of the Abkhaz passport, and since they do not allow double citizenship other than Abkhaz-Russian, many Georgian citizens, particularly in the Gali region, report that they have been forced to renounce their Georgian citizenship as a consequence of this effort, although this is denied by Abkhaz authorities. Gali is a town in the south of Abkhazia with predominantly ethinic Georgian population. Now the leader of the region, Alexander ...

News

International crisis topic when Obama meets Saakashvili

by | January 19, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - One of the topics of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and U.S. president Barack Obama's January 30 meeting will be ways of responding to international security challenges. It's the Georgian president’s administration which writes this in a press release Wednesday. Saakashvili and Obama have met several times before, but this will be the first official face to face meeting and will take place in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. The White House website wrote that Obama will be discussing reforms in Georgia. U.S. ambassador to Georgia John Bass  also mentions that the reform process is on the agenda, as well as common security. “The presidents will also discuss the security situation in Afghanistan. The subject for the discussion will also be the reforms which are being implemented in Georgia and are directed to the possibility for the Georgian citizens to choose the future for the country themselves, achieve more economic success and choose the leaders of their country,” Bass said. The Georgian president highlights the importance of the strategic partnership charter which the two countries signed in 2009, and ...

Investigative reports, News

Police action against Chinese settlement in Tbilisi

by | January 19, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - People at a Chinese settlement south of Tbilisi say the police came and questioned them two days after DFWatch wrote about the place. The Interior Ministry denies that the police was there. DFWatch December 6, 2011, reported on a Chinese market where women and children seemed to be living under cramped conditions in the highest secrecy. A spokesman for a company called Lilo City Ltd, which owns the area, says the police arrived two days later. They came in six cars and questioned the management for five to six hours, says the spokesman, who only wants to say his first name: Zviad. The police also looked around the market, where there are more than a hundred booths of about three by three meter’s size, many of them locked from the outside with a padlock. Some are used as living quarters. When first reporting about this market, DFWatch was approached by Zviad, and we asked him whether people were living there, but all our questions were rejected. After fifteen minutes we were physically thrown out by his security guards. There were ...

Media, News

Lawsuit against Ivanishvili’s new TV

by | January 18, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The new TV station being established by people around Georgian opposition financier Bidzina Ivanishvili is being sued. It’s called Igrika and was recently bought by a company which is owned by the wife of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who has said he plans to run in the election this fall and then form a government. Rustavi Media Management Company (RMMC) released a statement today saying it had filed a suit against Igreka, because of damage to personal property. RMMC is owned by Erosi Kitsmarishvili. The reasons for the lawsuit are unclear. DFWatch tried repeatedly to contact Mr Kitsmarishvili Wednesday evening, but his only comment was: "Keep watching". But it is likely to be related to the fact that Igrika belongs to Ilia Kikabidze. Apart from that, he is (or according to Kitsmarishvili, was) general director of Maestro, a TV station which currently is in a protracted feud to which Kitsmarishvili is one of the parties. The other party to the conflict is the journalists and techincal staff, who have fled to a radio studio and are continuing to broadcast from there, while ...

In brief, News

Obama to discuss fall election with Saakashvili

by | January 18, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - U.S. president Barack Obama will host his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili in the Oval Office on January 30 to discuss the upcoming parliamentary election in Georgia, expected in October. They will discuss democratic reforms that will ensure that Georgia is a vibrant and stable democratic state. Other topics will be the issue of territorial integrity. “The President will reconfirm U.S. support for the integrity of Georgia’s territory within its internationally recognized borders,” the statement says. But the U.S. president will also talk to Saakashvili about the defense cooperation with Georgia and its contribution to the security operations in Afghanistan. “The two presidents will discuss further strengthening the U.S. – Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership by enhancing cooperation in the fields of trade, tourism, energy, science, education, culture, and security.” 2012 is 20th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between USA and Georgia, the statement notes.  

News

Give us back our rights

by | January 18, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – The government in Georgia removed almost all labor protection in 2006. Now there is a growing movement to reclaim the lost rights. Labor rights campaigners demonstrated in Tbilisi Tuesday against the lack of proper protection. People gathered near the Rustaveli statue with flyers and painted posters with slogans like ‘Labor Code - Code of slavery’, 'No exploitation', 'I was fired for being pregnant' and ‘Solidarity with the Kutaisi workers’. The rally was organized by the Georgian Trade Unions and the youth movement Laboratoria 1918, which demand that the government amends the Labor Code, specifically the articles number 37 and 38, which entitles the employer to fire the employee any time, for any reason, without even explaining the grounds for being fired. In 2006, the government amended the Labor Code despite a number of recommendations and criticism from international and local organizations and trade unions. The government’s goal was to attract more investors to Georgia through the ‘simplified’ Labor Code, which would create comfortable conditions for them to arrive here in Georgia and invest money. The aspect about attracting investors has been borne ...

News

Christian Democrats alarmed by Russian exercise

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s Christian Democratic Party warns against a Russian military exercise of unseen proportions planned for September. The exercise is called ‘Caucasus 2012’ and is organized by the Russian South Strategic Command, one of four geographical divisions making up Russia’s territorial defense. Caucasus 2012 will involve a larger geographical area than previous exercises, according to Russian defense sources. Not only will it involve activity in Armenia, where Russia has a military base, but also inside Georgia’s two breakaway regions, where Russia has steadily built up a larger and more extensive military presence after the war in August 2008. The fact that a Russian military exercise for the first time will involve land areas south of Georgia as well as inside its breakaway parts raises the alarm in Tbilisi. Nika Laliashvili, the member of the parliamentary opposition party Christian Democrats Movement, calls Caucasus 2012 ‘alarming’ and says the exercise is ‘a bad coincidence with the upcoming presidential elections in the Russian Federation.’ Other countries were briefed about the exercise last December when foreign military attaches in Moscow were summoned to that country’s military chief ...

News

Gudiashvili Square protest continues

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - People gathered Sunday on Gudiashvili Square, the third protest against plans to develop the historic area. The rally was titled ‘Minifest as Manifest’ and saw another brandishing of paintings, handicraft and other artwork as well as refreshments and entertainment that continued into the night. Gudiashvili lies just behind Freedom Square, and to visitors it is probably best known as the place where Cafe Pur Pur is located. It is one of those places in the old part of Tbilisi with narrow streets and tightly spaced houses that are barely standing and sorely need reinforcement works. Tbilisi City Hall has a plan for giving the area a face lift which protesters however fear is too radical and will destroy its historic qualities. The main request of the rally's organizers and supporters is for the government to reinforce the buildings surrounding the square. The history of the square begins several centuries ago, just like the buildings around it. The houses are the same height in different colors which are fading away. Cracks in the walls, old balconies and windows, roofs; it is all like ...

News

Georgia warns against ‘offensive’ Russian exercise

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Russia’s South Strategic Command is planning the exercise ‘Caucasus 2012’ in September. Foreign military attaches were briefed about the exercise at a meeting in Moscow last December with the head of the Russian military’s chief of staff. It will involve not only army but also border guards, air force, interior ministry, security and emergency services, as well as what is called the Air Defense Force Management System. This air defense system controls not only Russian skies but also covers the South Caucasus, justified by the need to protect the Russian base in Armenia, Nezavisimaia Gazeta reports. According to Russian defense sources, unlike in previous exercised, this year it will also take place inside Georgia’s breakaway regions, Abkhazia and the South Ossetia, as well as in Armenia. Georgia’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday that the exercise is offensive in nature and a provocation meant to stoke ‘permanent tension’ in Georgia and the Black Sea region. “The international community should pay attention to the fact that the Russian foreign policy is not changed. It continues aggressive actions, including demonstrating military forces and provocations. Russia is the ...

News

Cartu sues National Bank over delayed audit

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Bank Cartu of Georgian tycoon Bidznia Ivanishvili sues Georgian National Bank because an audit is being delayed, claiming political motivations. The National Bank started an audit of Cartu right after police seized two million US dollars and one million euros worth of cash last October, suspected of being part of a money laundering operation. Cartu Bank said it was an inter-bank transfer to boost their cash reserves which was made necessary because supporters of the ruling party had closed their accounts after Ivanishvili's political debut, causing a cash crisis. On October 19, Cartu was subject to further misfortune as the National Bank launched an audit, justified with the seizure of cash, as well as changes in the bank’s management. One week ago the cash was returned, but the investigation is still ongoing. Nodar Javakhishvili, board chairman of Cartu Bank, says they are suing because of a delay in the National Bank’s audit. “They are working in a regime of pre-control of operations, something which doesn’t even fit in the essence of checking term and there is no legal basis for it.” Javakhishvili said. According ...

News

Georgians want to be member of EU, not move there

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A new poll shows Georgians expect EU membership reasonably soon, but that very few want to seek employment in other European countries. Compared to 2009, a slightly larger majority think Georgia will become a member of the European Union within ten years. A third think this will happen within the next five years, while one in ten think Georgia is already member. 66% of those interviewed think that NATO is the most important organization for Georgia, followed by the EU and the World Bank. However, the largest group (41%) thinks EU membership is more important for Georgia than to join NATO. 88% of respondents in the survey ‘Knowledge and Attitudes toward the European Union in Georgia’ think Georgia should become EU member. The Eurasian Partnership Foundation, which carried out the survey, interprets the results as a sign that closer integration with the EU is not just a project by Georgia’s political elite, but something ordinary people also support. ‘Georgian citizens are profoundly Europhilic,’ the report’s authors write. The main barriers to Georgia becoming EU member are unresolved conflicts, political instability, Russia and democracy, ...

In brief, News

Georgian died after explosion on Turkish tanker

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - One Georgian crew member and the Azerbaijani captain have died after a Turkish tanker sunk off the coast of Albania on Sunday. Georgia's consulate in Turkey reports that the body of 22-year-old Beka Urushadze has been identified. The Embassy reports that one more Georgian, Malkhaz Lazishvili, is still missing following the accident, and some Caucasian news agencies are reporting him as deceased. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nino Kalandadze says the situation is complex and the government is therefore careful with releasing information until it is confirmed. The tanker Edirne had delivered three thousand tons of fuel in Durres, Albania. It was about to leave the harbour when the accident happened. Initial reports indicate that there was an explosion before the ship sank. Interfax reports that two Ukrainians were rescued. There are conflicting reports of how many people were aboard, with Interfax reporting 15, while Interpressnews, a Georgian agency, says 14. The crew included Turkish, Azerbaijani and Ukrainians, in addition to Georgians. Edirne had a deadweight of 4112 tons and was built in 1980. It flew the flag of Sierra Leone. Georgia used to have a significant trade fleet, but ...

In brief, News

Tbilisi mayor’s 2010 campaign to be scrutinized

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian Chamber of Control is looking closer at the financial activities of an organization which campaigned for Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava in 2010. The organization is called Our Vote to Gigi Ugulava and had several well-known Georgian singers among its members. This is the result of recent changes in the law about party financing which made the same restrictions apply to other groups than parties, and even individuals. The CoC's monitoring group quickly got busy using the new powers and started checking the finances of a movement called Georgian Dream, which was started by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who plans to win this year’s parliamentary election and then form a government. Several commentators asked why the body didn't do checks on organizations close to the government. Yesterday, a second organization was named as target of the expanded rules. Our vote to Gigi Ugulava was formed as a campaigning tool for the mayor's election campaign. Although the incumbent at the time, he had never been elected until the local elections in May 2010. When this organization was founded it was said to be ...

News

Georgian government may play for time in Ivanishvili case

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government in Georgia can gain one year by delaying a court case which will decide whether to allow an opposition financier to form a political party. By that time, the parliamentary election will be over.  The only legal way for the government not to allow Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and his wife to participate in this year’s parliamentary election is to take their citizenship case to the court and drag out the process. This is the result of a recent court ruling which upheld a presidential decree annul Ivanishvili’s citizenship but decided that the annulment of his wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze’s citizenship was unlawful. President Mikheil Saakashvili revoked the couple’s citizenship in October 2011, just four days after Ivanishvili declared that he would go into politics. The argument was that the government didn’t know that Ivanishvili and his wife both were French citizens as well as Georgian and Russian. According to Georgian legislation, double citizenship is allowed, but a person needs to go through a specific application process which the government claims had not been done in this case. Georgian law ...

In brief, News

Opposition politician released

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has released an opposition politician who was arrested Saturday on charges of illegal possession of weapon. Elguja Chkhaidze, the leader of the Free Democrats in the Lanchkhuti region western Georgia, was released Sunday after paying a 2 000 lari fine. Сourt proceedings in the case are scheduled for March 7. He is charged with illegal weapon’s possession. Irakli Alasania, the leader of the Free Democrats yesterday held a briefing in the Lanchkhuti region and dismissed the allegations as yet another political game, claiming that the weapon found in the house of Chkhaidze had been planted. He also said that the whole family is also suffering because of such political ploys. Chkhaidze ‘s son was recently detained for illegal drug use. Alasania promised that ‘the next parliamentary elections will change the government, which persecutes people solely because of their political beliefs.’ Georgia has released an opposition politician who was arrested Saturday on charges of illegal possession of weapon. Elguja Chkhaidze, the leader of the Christian Democrats in the Lanchkhuti region western Georgia, was released Sunday after paying a 2 000 lari fine. Сourt proceedings ...

In brief, News

Opposition politician arrested in Georgia

by | January 14, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Police yesterday evening arrested the regional leader of the opposition Free Democrats party in the town of Lanchkhuti, western Georgia. Spokespersons for the party say the police did not allow Elguja Chkhaidze access to a lawyer after his arrest, violating his right to defense. During the search of his home the police found an automatic weapon. According to the Free Democrats, Chkhaidze spent the whole night at the regional police office. Party leader Irakli Alasania today called the arrest ‘political persecution’ and connects it to the sudden move into politics by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Alasania was speaking at a press conference in Lanchkhuti. The Free Democrats is one of four parties supported by Mr Ivanishvili. “Chkhaidze is illegally detained and the weapon they found was deliberately put [there],” Alasania says, adding that also Chkhaidze’s family is victim of political persecution. Recently his son was arrested for alleged drug use, he says.    

In brief, News

Georgian sailors held hostage return home

by | January 14, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The fifteen Georgians who had been held captive by Somali pirates returned home yesterday. They were released on Sunday. The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili greeted the sailors in Turkey together with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Three Turkish sailors were also freed along the Georgians. They have spent 508 days in captivity. After arriving in Turkey the Georgians came home to Georgia together with President Saakashvili. The ship, which was sailing under a Maltan flag, was captured in September 2010. The Somali pirates demanded 9 million dollars in ransom. The amount proved too big for the shipping company, and the negotiations were broken off. The Georgian government ascribed the sailors’ release to their inter-agency commission which had worked intensely on the case, but claimed that no ransom had been paid. However, the news website Somali Report claims to have been in contact with the pirates who say that a ransom of 3 million dollars was dropped onto the ship. In October last year twelve other Georgian sailors were taken hostage off the coast of Nigeria, but were freed after several ...

News

Ivanishvili’s secret weapon: his own TV station

by | January 14, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Many people in Georgia have been expecting that the billionaire who is challenging president Mikheil Saakashvili’s position would have a card up his sleeve. Now it’s revealed: A new TV station. His wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze is part owner of a company which recently bought management rights to an already established TV station, which has a licence for cable and satellite. The company is called Igrika, and transferred its management rights to Aktsepti Ltd from December 13, 2011 to December 31, 2013. Igrika was founded by the director of Maestro, a small independent TV station, and 80% of Aktsepti’s shares are held by Ekaterine Khvedelidze, Ivanishvili’s wife. What the station will be called and when it will start broadcasting is still unknown. Yesterday Tina Khidasheli, leader of the Republican Party which is aligned with Ivanishvili, also confirmed that the new television station is in the works, and that some of the goods damaged in customs recently are actually techincal equipment for the Ivanishvilis’ new TV studios. “This is only 10% of the equipment the television really needs, but we are still waiting for ...

News

Teachers in Georgia fired for political beliefs

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – When Tamar Sukhiashvili, a teacher from the village Kakabeti, was told she was fired, it came as a surprise. The previous day, the school’s director had complimented her on her qualified work. The reason for her firing turned out to be that she held views supportive of the opposition. “I asked him to explain what were the grounds for my firing. He told me that he was carrying out orders from the top,” Sukhiashvili remembers. She says that her employer asked her to write a letter of resignation, but she refused. Then she was told that he had already prepared her termination letter. She holds up the letter and says it only makes reference to article 38 of the labor code, which gives an employer the right not to give any reasons for firing an employee. “They accused me of some absurd accusation, as if an anonymous letter had been sent to the general inspection of the Education Ministry which told about my cooperation with Ivanishvili,” Sukhiashvili says. Bidzina Ivanishvili is a billionaire who recently launched an opposition movement and wants to ...

In brief, News

Green Party warns of ecological catastrophe

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Green Party claims a hydroelectric project in Turkey will divert too much water from Mtkvari, possibly creating serious environmental problems. A low water level in the river Mtkvari may lead to epidemics, because sewage water from Tbilisi and Rustavi will then make up the main mass of water, the party claims. Turkey is planning to build the Beshik Haya cascade reservoirs in Turkey’s Ardagani district. The Green Party claims this will redirect much of the water in the Mtkvari into the Black Sea instead of the Caspian Sea, where it runs today. This will lead to an ecological and economic catastrophe, according to leader Giorgi Gachechiladze. The Green Party appeals to authorities of Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, which also may become the victim of the project, not to let this project be implementated, because ‘an artificially created water deficit might cause tension between the states.’ The river Mtkvari is the biggest water artery in the South Caucasus and is very important for Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Green Party states. Today the Georgian Minister of Environment Goga Khachidze said on Radio Liberty ...

In brief, News

Georgia returns money taken in raid against bank

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The cash which authorities in Georgia took into custody in an armed police raid last October has been returned to businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili’s bank. According to a statement from Tbilisi Prosecutor’s Office dated Tuesday, the cash apprehended on October 18, 2011, has been transferred to Cartu Bank's account in accordance with the law, in the form of a non-cash payment. In the raid, police took two million US dollars and one million Euros worth of Cartu Bank’s cash in a van. The money was an inter-bank transfer between Cartu Bank and Bank of Georgia, a common practice internationally when a bank needs to increase its cash reserve. The reason for this particular inter-bank transfer was that the government and its supporters had just closed all their accounts in Cartu Bank in a concerted response after Bidzina Ivanishvili October 7, 2011, published an open letter saying he would go into politics. The many closed accounts made the bank face cash problems, and a cash reinforcement from Bank of Georgia was necessary, according to Cartu Bank president Nodar Javakhishvili. The banks were given ...

News

Who is building Georgia’s new parliament?

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The construction work on Georgia's new parliament building in Kutaisi is well underway, but who is actually building it, and how much will it cost? A recent push by a local civil rights group revealed that minister Ramaz Nikolaishvili does not give that information out to just anyone. Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) says in a statement that they contacted the Ministry for Regional Development and Infrastructure as well as Kutaisi City Hall, asking for details about the project's expenses. Kutaisi City Hall answered „we inform you that building the new parliament in Kutaisi is financed from the Georgian central budget“, in a letter signed by City Hall administrative service Tengiz Topuridze. But in Georgia’s 2012 budget, there is no mention of the new parliament building. That’s why IDFI made this request in the first place, the group explains. The Ministry for Regional Development simply answered that it doesn’t have detailed information about the parliament building in Kutaisi. It was president Mikheil Saakashvili’s decision to move Georgia’s parliament to the town of Kutaisi in the west of Georgia. The project ...

In brief, News

National Bank shared information about Ivanishvili

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s party finance watchdog claims it obtained information about the financial activities of the Georgian Dream movement from the National Bank. The body released a report Tuesday which showed how much money opposition financier Bidzina Ivanishvili has spent on advertisement in various newspapers and TV not affiliated with the government. As DFWatch has reported, there are some who question where this information came from, and whether the control body had the legal authority to base its report on unofficial information. The report says Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream movement refused to give the information to the Chamber of Control (CoC), and therefore the CoC obtained the information from ‘alternative sources.’ Thursday CoC spokesperson Natia Mogeladze declared that they have received that information from the National Bank. “The Georgian Chamber of Control has a memorandum with the National Bank. On the grounds of this memorandum we requested the information about the financial activity of the organization and it was made public,” Mogeladze says.  She is chair of the monitoring group of the Georgian Chamber of Control. Mogeladze also says that the changes to the ...

News

Georgian opposition financier waiting, considering options

by | January 12, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Lawyers working for Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili claim there are 44 days left for the President and the Civil Registry to decide whether to give him back his Georgian citizenship. They also say France will only revoke his French citizenship after the businessman’s has had restored his Georgian citizenship. The businessman’s citizenship troubles began several months ago, when declared that he wants to enter politics and run in the parliamentary election in October 2012. His unexpected statement puzzled authorities, and just four days later the president issued a decree which revoked Ivanishvili’s and his wife’s citizenships. The Civil Registry explained that both of them were French citizens, and at the same time had Russian and Georgian citizenships. Ivanishvili’s lawyers appealed the president’s decision to Tbilisi City Court, which only partly granted the appeal, and made a decision to restore the citizenship of his wife. She was already a French citizen when the president granted her Georgian citizenship in 2004, unlike Bidzina Ivanishvili, who several years later became French citizen. According to Georgian legislation, if a person becomes citizen of another country, ...

In brief, News

Georgia’s capital is on the move

by | January 12, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is moving yet another state body closer to Europe -- at least a few dozen kilometers. This time it's the Ministry for Internally Displaced Persons which will be moved from Tbilisi to the town of Gori, which lies close to the occupied territories and just a few kilometers from the administrative border. "I don’t know whether Gori is a suburb to Tbilisi, or Tbilisi to Gori, this is an issue for discussion, but Gori will definitely be one of the major centers of Georgia," Saakashvili said on January 11 as he announced his decision during a street appearance in the town that was occupied by Russian troops in August 2008. Several years ago the constitutional court was moved to Batumi, and parliament will be moved to Kutaisi later this year. The energy regulatory commission has been moved to Kutaisi, and the Chamber of Control will soon be there too. Moving public bodies out into the regions is a conscious policy choice by Saakashvili's government, explained as a means to create development in those places. But the opposition thinks ...

In brief, News

Georgian tycoon-politician might use wife to form party

by | January 12, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Ekaterine Khvedelidze, wife of the Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is going to set up a new political party and compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Khvedelidze said this today as she appealed for a judge to immediately enforce a court ruling which restores her Georgian citizenship. In October, her husband unexpectedly broke out of his role as a behind-the-scenes do-gooder and levelled a scathing attack against president Saakashvili, saying he would challenge him in Georgia's parliamentary election in October 2012. Four days later, Saakashvili revoked Ivanishvili's and his wife's citizenship, based on a request from the Civil Registry, which said it was not previously aware that the two were French citizens. Georgian law does not as a rule allow double citizenship. In December, a court rejected Ivanishvili's plea to annul the president's decision, but the court found that Khvedelidze's citizenship was incorrectly revoked. If or when she gets it back, she will be allowed to form a political party. As Ivanishvili's wife she will let him run in the election indirectly, a solution many have speculated that the businessman would go for after he ...

News

Georgian media swept up in campaign finance clampdown

by | January 11, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Newspapers and TV not affiliated with the government in Georgia have been swept up in a major effort by authorities to restrict an opposition financier's influence. Civil rights groups warned in late 2011 that this could happen, and now it has. Georgia's new party finance law is being applied far outside of party politics. TV stations and even newspapers are being made to jump through bureaucratic hurdles originally meant only for political parties. Now the media being targeted warn that if this is followed through, they will not be able to survive, because the rules applied to them are too strict and complicated. Bidzina Ivanishvili, a well-known but low-profile financier suddenly jumped onto the political stage in Georgia last October, and political debate has centered around bureaucratic moves by authorities that the opposition claim are meant to prevent him from supporting them in the elections this fall. The latest move came with changes to the party finance law. Before, they applied only to political parties, but from January 1, all kinds of organizations and businesses, and even individuals, that have an ...

In brief, News

Fox reaffirms UK’s military ties with Georgia

by | January 11, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - British conservative politician Liam Fox calls the administrative border around the Tskhinvali region ‘the occupation line between Free Georgia and Occupied Georgia.’ The MP for North Somerset and former Secretary of State for Defense was visiting the border border area when he made the comment January 9. During his stay in Georgia, Fox has met defense minister Bacho Akhalaia and discussed Georgia’s participation in the ISAF operation, security conditions in the region and what Fox calls the threats of Iran's nuclear program. “First of all, as a former Secretary of State for Defense I am given the opportunity on this meeting to thank the Georgian government for participating in the Afghanistan mission through the defense minister. Georgia's contribution is valued by the United Kingdom as well as by the whole ISAF mission.“ „We discussed the situation in Afghanistan and how to react to the violence there. We discussed the situation in Iran, the dangers of the nuclear program and instability in the region, which of course impacts not only the region, but on the larger global picture.” Fox said. According to the Georgian ...

Economy, News

Bankrupcy left workers in crisis

by | January 10, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Nodar has been working in Georgia's mountainous Bakuriani region for three years with his team of construction workers. But the company which employs him, Nola, has only paid him 2 000 lari out of the 16 000 he is entitled to. “So many today are in the same situation as me," he says outside of the National Executive Bureau in Tbilisi, where construction workers had gathered Tuesday to demand several years of back payment. “Some even have demands of 18 000," Nodar says. The company Nola sent Nodar's team to Bakuriani to build a security complex for the Interior Ministry on the order of BP. But a few years ago Nola went bankrupt. It had debts of nearly 11 million lari to the government and nearly 800 000 to the 450 workers employed at the different construction sites around the capital as well as in the regions. The workers went to court, and according to the Georgian Trade Union, two different judges reviewed the case. Both rulings -- in April and May of 2010 -- state that Nola must pay what it ...

News

Media’s alleged Ivanishvili links scrutinized

by | January 10, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - National TV channels in Georgia are scrutinizing the links between political challenger Bidzina Ivanishvili and an opposition-friendly cable channel in Tbilisi. Imedi, Rustavi 2 and GPB, the three national TV stations in Georgia, claim to have uncovered links between Ivanishvili and other parts of Georgian media. One target of the allegations is Kavkazia TV, which Monday night disclosed financial details about its political advertisements over the last two years. What started the debate was a statement by Zurab Japaridze, leader of a think tank called Clear Policy, voicing the suspicion that Ivanishvili is secretly funding certain media. Japaridze said one journalist left the newspaper Alia after having refused to print his Ivanishvili critical article, saying he suspects that the paper's editorial policy had been changed. When the billionaire established his Georgian Dream movement in December, some were running TV ads for it. Shortly after Japaridze made his claims, Nino Jangirashvili, owner of Kavkazia, wrote on her Facebook page that journalists of Imedi and Rustavi 2 had been following her all day asking the same question: whether Ivanishvili finances her company or not. She also ...

News

Saakashvili building megacity without plan

by | January 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is starting to build an entirely new city from scratch, but there is no city plan yet. Contruction work is set to start within the year, but no map or street plan is yet in existence for architects and engineers to use. The president's administration has told the Georgian Institute for Development of Freedom of Information that there are no documents in their archive concerning Lazika. President Saakashvili December 4 promised to build an entirely new city in western Georgia close to the border with Abkhazia which in ten years will have half a million inhabitants and be the country's second biggest city. A plan is already prepared, and negotiations are underway with several big investment groups in Asia and Europe, the president said, during one of his live speeches regularly carried by the national TV networks, characterized by an enthusiastic, upbeat, campaign-like style. Shortly after, DFWatch asked the president's administration for more information about Lazika, but was told that work was still in progress and there was nothing to share.

In brief, News

Georgian media: One for all, all for one

by | January 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia's crisis-stricken free media have agreed on a new plan to react against outside interference in their work. The plan comes after a cable channel had to escape to a different studio and newspapers in Tbilisi have seen many newspaper kiosks torn down, threatening their distribution. Former producer at Maestro TV Mamuka Glonti took the initiative to the alliance, which works on the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, and requires a joint response from the media sector. The idea is to have a stronger and clearer voice so the message will get through both inside Georgia and abroad. In the new memorandum the aim is described as to protect its member journalists and media outlets against political pressure and other illegal actions. Also non-members might receive the alliance's protection, but that will be decided on a case by case basis. The memorandum will be signed at an official ceremony February 1 at 1 pm, at the offices of Obiektivi, an internet based radio and TV outfit in Tbilisi. Until then, media units will be invited to sign ...

News

Georgian hostages released in Somalia

by | January 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Fifteen Georgian sailors taken hostage by Somali pirates have been set free after 508 days of captivity. According to Georgia's Marine Transport Agency, no ransom was paid. But pirates who spoke to the news service SomaliaReport.com said a three million dollar ransom was dropped onto the ship Sunday morning. Right now, the fifteen are being given medical attention aboard a ship with armed guards under Georgian control which is sailing towards a harbor somewhere on the African coast. The three Turkish hostages were also freed. It was in September 2010 that the Malta-registered ship Olupel Aiji was taken over by pirates off the coast of Somalia. A few months ago, the website SomaliaReport.com released a short video which appeared to show that the captured crew members were unharmed. In yesterday news about the imminent release of the hostages, the Georgian government claimed it was the result of intense negotiations by Georgia's inter-agency commission under the auspices of president Mikheil Saakashvili. Operative leader of the effort, deputy minister of economy and sustainable development, Giorgi Korbelashvili, said today that Georgia considered storming the ship six months ...

News

Citizenship issue postponed indefinitely

by | January 8, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian billionaire who wants to run in the election in fall may have to wait for a long time for his citizenship application. Bidzina Ivanishvili lost his Georgian citizenship in October, four days after declaring that he wants to challenge Mikheil Saakashvili's power. He needs a citizenship in order to legally run a campaign and form a party, but lost a court case and now pursues a different course: applying directly to president Saakashvili. But the president now has changed the rules, so that that kind of applications for citizenship have an unlimited response time. This means that Mr Ivanishvili may not get an answer before the election, and may never get an answer, according to legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze. He thinks this is a violation of the principle of predictability; that a citizen should know when to expect an answer from authorities. “When a person appeals to president with the request to grant citizenship, he should be able to know when he will receive a positive or negative answer. Possibly, the next step of this person is dependent on this answer," ...

In brief, News

Georgian hostages in Somalia to be released

by | January 8, 2012

Fifteen Georgian sailors who have been held hostage by Somali pirates for a year and a half are expected to be released in a few hours. Their release comes after intense negotiations by a an inter-agency commission within the Georgian government and is reported today by Georgian Tv station Imedi. The 15 were captured in September 2010 along with the three Turkish sailors. The pirates demanded millions of dollars in ransom, some reports said 15 million, which lead the company which owns the ship Olupel Aiji to break off negotiations, due to the size of the demand. The government’s inter-agency commission has since been in ‘intense negotiations’ to secure the release of the Georgian sailors. There has so far been no official comment from Georgian authorities. But according to Imedi, the parties have recently achieved significant progress and as a result there is a high likelihood that the process will lead to the Georgian hostages being released. In recent years, groups of pirates have been capturing merchant vessels in the waters off the coast of Somalia and demanding ransom. They move using cargo ships, boats, fishing ...

In brief, News

Georgian soldier dies in Afghanistan

by | January 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian corporal has died in Afghanistan while serving in the ISAF mission. This is the twelfth Georgian soldier who dies in the war. According to the Georgian Ministry of Defense, Shalva Palodze died of wounds received during a Taliban attack. Georgia is one of the biggest contributors to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In 2004, 50 Georgian military servicemen participated in the ISAF operation, providing security for the presidential elections. Since November 2007, Georgian doctors from the town Chagcharan in Georgia’s Gori region are carrying out a peacekeeping mission with the 6 month rotation in the Lithuanian contingent’s province reconstruction group. From November 2009, the Georgian peacekeeping company began carrying out a mission with the French contingent in Kabul, to provide security at regional command headquarters, Camp Warehouse. Rotation means that a new company takes over every six month. Since April 2010, a third Georgian unit has been station in the Helmand province in the south of Afghanistan; third infantry brigade’s 31st battalion, consisting of 749 soldiers. The battalion has been performing the full spectrum of ...

News

Political ‘interest’ prompted Ivanishvili audit

by | January 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – A political movement in Georgia must follow rules for party financing, because it wants to impact the election. The new head of Georgia’s campaign finance watchdog, Natia Mogeladze (pictured), says she ordered Ivanishvili's movement to report on its finances because they made statements indicating political intentions. “The motivation was their own statement, according to which, they are interested in processes which may finally have an impact on the elections,” Mogeladze said. Campaign finance rules until recently only applied to political parties, but a new law expanded those rules to any organization, and even individual, that is directly or indirectly connected to politics. Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has refrained from going to party politics, but in December launched what is called a ‘public movement’ as a temporary detour towards his goal of running in the parliamentary election later this year. But the government introduced new stricter rules on party financing which this week were applied to his movement, called Georgian Dream. This is the first time such rules are used outside of party politics, a development seen as deeply worrying by influential organizations in ...

News

Ivanishvili company claims harassment by customs

by | January 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A company owned by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili claims the customs service is deliberately damaging goods as they arrive from abroad, and that this only started after he said he wanted to go to politics. His company Cartu Group says goods arriving through customs have a loss of 700 000 lari, or nearly 420 000 US dollars, due to deliberate damage. Company representatives are asking that foreign diplomats monitor their goods at the custom control. Representative of Cartu Group Vladimer Khundadze told journalists Friday that since October all their goods have been arriving through the so-called red corridor. International organizations and diplomats were also present at the press conference. According to Georgian legislation, goods arriving at customs are subject to selective examination, and suspicious goods fall in the so-called red corridor, where goods are examined in detail. The law says that goods should be put through such thorough checking when the owner has been known to violate revenue or custom rules. Cartu Group representatives claim that they never committed such violations. “If it was necessary to examine Cartu Group goods in 5-10% ...

News

Georgia relaxes detention practice

by | January 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – The Georgian interior minister Vano Merabishvili (pictured) claims he is relaxing a controversial practice called administrative detention. Prisoners will be able to make phone calls, receive family members, talk to their lawyer and have more time to shower and be in the open air, the minister promises. The reason for the change is recommendations from the ombudsman, and local and international organizations, which have criticized the practice. Authorities in Georgia are in the process of changing the law regulating it, but Human Rights Watch Wednesday called for immediate measures to milden the conditions of such prisoners, and not to wait for the new law. The group pointed out that prisoners are being held for up to 90 days in cells that are built for only 72 hour stays. They lack proper access to shower and don’t get enough time in the open, among other things. Under the new rules which came into force January 1, administrative detainees will have increased food rations, more time to shower, walk in open air conditions, receive family members twice a month, have one 10 minute phone ...

In brief, News

Party finance boss’ neutrality questioned

by | January 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Opposition parties in Georgia object against the appointment of an employee at the Ministry of Justice as new head of the party finance monitoring body. The objections come not only from the many fiercly anti-government parties, but also from those that signed an agreement with the government last summer about how to overhaul the election system. Later, the government introduced new elements that had not been agreed, and one of these is a stricter and more complicated regime to control party finances. The statement strongly criticizes the appointment of a lawyer formerly employed at the chief prosecutor’s office as head of the financial monitoring of party politics. Opposition parties are against her appointment, because they think that ‘this way the ministry of Justice will personally control the opposition parties and will use it for harassment against them.’ In her new post at the Chamber of Control, Natia Mogeladze will instruct her staff to monitor not only the finances of parties, but also organizations and persons directly or indirectly connected to parties. Mogeladze today used the new law about party finances to order ...

News

Full checkup for Ivanishvili’s nascent bloc

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - One day after being given responsibility for enforcing Georgia’s new tough rules on campaign financing, Natia Mogeladze takes the bull by the horns and asks the country’s new opposition movement to see their finances. This is the first time a new, controversial law on party financing is being applied outside of party politics, which seems to confirm that the rules were tailor made to stem the progress of a wealthy busniessman. The law, which came into force four days ago, is controversial, because it widens the impact of rules that normally apply to political parties; so much so that organizations like human rights groups and even individuals could be treated in the same way as political parties. Mogeladze, who just became head of the monitoring service at the Georgian Chamber of Control, today asked for a financial report from the movement called Georgian Dream. Their report should be presented within ‘reasonable time’. Political parties, however, will have more time to put together their reports, and have a deadline of February 1. The Chamber of Control was tasked with monitoring the financial ...

In brief, News

Detainees may register at university

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Youth who are sentenced to administrative detention in Georgia will be guaranteed that they will be able to register as a university student while serving time. This has been decided by the Georgian interior minister’s in a decree, effective from January 1, 2012. According to the decree, a person sentenced to administrative detention has a right to register for higher education by the rules prescribed by the Ministry of Education and Science regarding continuation of education and participation in unified national exams. This should happen by submitting written application. On examination day, the applicant will be transferred from the place of detention to the appropriate exam center, accompanied by an escort. According to the decree, a person sentenced to administrative detention will be provided with the conditions to continue his or her general education program. It’s prohibited to prevent detainees from having access to school textbooks and other things, except for reasons of security or other urgent concern.  

News

Georgia rules out early election for parliament

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – There is uncertainty about the exact date of Georgia’s parliamentary election, with some expecting that president Mikheil Saakashvili might decide to hold them earlier than October. The exact date is decided by the president and must be announced at least sixty days in advance. The constitution says different things; on the one hand that it should be held in October, but on the other, some time after parliament is dissolved, which means it could be held any time in between July and October. Tuesday president Saakashvili once more confirmed that he plans to hold them in October and that nine months is enough for the country to prepare. 2012 could become the year when power in a South Caucasus country for the first time in history changes through democratic means. Georgia currently has two major political blocs that are running close in the polls, though it remains to be seen whether the challenger, businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, will be allowed to stand in the parliamentary election. Saakashvili was meeting Wednesday with Zurab Kharatishvili (pictured), head of the Central Election Commission (CEC). His ...

Media, News

TV staff jailed in Tbilisi

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Two employees of a TV station in Tbilisi who were arrested four days ago have been sentenced by a court to fifty days pretrial detention. The two are employed by one of the two opposing sides of a crisis-struck Maestro TV. The independent cable station was split after its manager broke into the studios November 30 and took control over most of the expensive equipment. Journalists fled to a radio studio and have been keeping the signal alive under what they call emergency conditions. Broadcasts are lacking name tags and other technical effects, and journalists have been trying to get back their equipment, but police have barred them from entering. The two who were jailed, Valery Gikashvili and Mikheil Zedgenidze, are employees of Rustavi Media Company, the company which bought Maestro’s management rights two years ago and are now in physical control of its main studios. They were arrested on charges of appropriation of Maestro’s equipment and resisting police. The company protests the court decision and calls for the public defender and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to monitor what is happening and ...

News

Parliament’s powers weakened, warn lawyers

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) calls for the Minister of Justice to immediately amend a decree he issued which gives the government the right to change the wording a laws already passed by parliament. Last week saw an unusual legal manouver in Tbilisi, when the government changed the wording of a controversial law after it had been signed by the president. Several influential organizations like Transparency International protested against the law, because it seemed to apply what’s called retroactive powers, which means holding someone to account for actions which were legal at the time. Retroactive powers are not allowed by international conventions and the constitution. A spokesman for the ruling party said the editing had been done only to avoid misunderstandings. Shortly afterwards, justice minister Zura Adeishvili issued a decree which formally gives the government the power to change laws after they have come into power. His decree gave a body under his ministry – an office and a website called Matsne – the power to make ‘editorial corrections’ to normative acts. Decree number 158 by the Minister of Justice issued on ...

News

Little known official will lead campaign finance control

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has appointed the official who will be in charge of enforcing a set of new tough rules on campaign finance, as the country is preparing to hold parliamentary elections in the fall. The responsibility to enforce the new rules has been handed to Natia Mogeladze, a lawyer about who little is known. Her formal position is chair of monitoring of the financial activity of political parties within the Chamber of Control (CoC). There has been at times turbulent debate about the new campaign finance rules, with influential organizations arguing that they are biased in favor of the ruling National Movement party. But when CoC head Levan Bezhashvili officially presented the monitoring service head at a briefing Tuesday, little was done to assuage concerns of partiality as the media’s inquiries about Mrs Mogeladze’s biography were rejected. What is known is that Mogeladze is a lawyer and has been working as a prosecutor at the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The modified law about Political Association of Citizens gives the CoC the responsibility to conduct monitoring of how political parties get their financing and ...

Media, News

New media protection group formed

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – Representatives of Georgian media gathered today at the office of Obiektivi, an internet based radio and television outfit, to prepare the draft of a memorandum for a new media association, which will be called Solidarity for Freedom of the Media. The new association is the initiative of Mamuka Glonti, the co-founder of the independent television Maestro, which is in a difficult situation these days, after its head Erosi Kitsmarishvili broke into the main studio building on November 30, forced the journalists to leave, and is still in control of the premises. The current stand-off at Maestro is one motivating factor. Another one is what newspaper workers are calling an active campaign by the government to destroy their distribution system. This is about a project by Tbilisi City Hall to auction off locations for kiosks in Tbilisi. Many of these locations are at places where there until recently used to be newspaper kiosks. The old kiosks have been torn down during the last month. For these and other reasons, Mamuka Glonti took the initiative to set up the new association to ...

News

Administrative detention a violation of human rights

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s law about administrative offenses is a violation of human rights and the problem must be addressed immediately, says a new report published Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report says that although the government is currently reforming the system, it should get in place emergency measures in order to ensure defendants' rights. Administrative detention is a harsh form of imprisonment left over from the Soviet Union where authorities may imprison a person for up to 90 days for minor violations such as breaking the traffic rules. It is in use in many former Soviet countries, but especially extensively in Georgia. Another rights group, the Georgian Young Lawyer's Association, estimates the number as high as around four thousand people every year, many of the cases in connection with political activism. HRW’s experts have interviewed dozens of lawyers of those held in administrative detention. They also talked to two persons fined by the court for administrative offenses and to senior government officials. Nearly all respondents who were charged with administrative responsibility had been arrested for participating in opposition rallies, according to Giorgi ...

In brief, News

New restrictions on prisoner belongings

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Prisoners in Georgia will no longer have the right to watch DVDs and receive certain kinds of things in the mail but will have to buy those things in the prison shops. Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze made this decision by a special decree which is already in force. The decree will shrink the list of consumer goods, articles of hygiene and other things which a prisoner has the right to receive in the mail, keep, legally use or buy in the prison shops. Until today, a prisoner could receive or buy tobacco and matches, clothes, hat, shoes and items’ samples set for convicts for the bed; underwear; handkerchief, belts, socks, tights, gloves, indoor slippers, sports shoes, yarn, robes, towels; toiletries (toilet and household soap, toothbrush, tooth powder, tooth paste, perfumed oil, comb, hair clip); kerchief, belts, bras, cheesecloth, hygiene packs, hair clips, jelly, cotton, shampoo, cosmetic things (for women); mirror, mechanical, electrical or single razor, shoes and clothes brushes, shoe-lubricant, made from plastic glasses, soap and a toothbrush nests, utensils, cups and spoons; board Games, except ...

In brief, News

Used cars is Georgia’s export article no 1

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – Used cars has become Georgia’s most important export article, accounting for 21% of all exports in 2011. Second and third are ferroalloys and fertilizers. The country’s exports rose by 40% in 2011, compared to the previous year. Georgia ended the year 2011 with an average inflation level of 8.5. In 2010 and 2009 it was 7.1 and 1.7 respectively, according to the National Statistics Office, GeoStat. The new report shows a significant increase in prices on food and soft drinks (1.5%) at the end of the year; also vegetables, melons, potatoes (9.6%), fish and milk, while prices decreased for sugar, sweets (4.3%) and bread products (0.9%). For the whole year, the most significant changes are seen in the prices for transportation. They increased by 14.6 percent. The report also covers information about Georgia’s foreign trade from January to November. This totaled 8 259 million US dollars, which according to the report is 37% more compared to the previous year. 1 936 million US dollars of that amount was export, 40% more than in 2010; 6 323 million USD was import, which is 36% ...

News

Ask for solidarity

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Companies distributing newspapers in Tbilisi are calling for their colleagues who want to participate City Hall’s project ‘1000 Booths’ not to sumit bids for locations where there were newspaper kiosks before. Planeta Forte, Matsne and Elva Servis released a common statement regarding the auction, which is held today and will continue tomorrow. In the statement there are listed the numbers of the lots where newspaper kiosks were standing until recently, asking for solidarity from other companies. “We thank those companies and individuals who have taken account of our request, supported us and not participated in the auction for specific locations on December 30,” the statement says, adding special thanks to the two egg producing companies Kumisi and Koda. “This allowed us to keep the old places, but there also were persons, who didn’t listen to our request and who participated in the auction in the name of individuals.” Tbilisi City Hall over a month ago began implementing a project called ‘1000 Booths’, whose goal is to support small and medium sized businesses in Georgia and create a fairer business environment. But newspapers ...

News

Hijacked Tbilisi TV cut from sat link

by | January 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A TV station in the Georgian capital has had its satellite link cut. The studios of Maestro TV were taken over November 30 by a businessman who held management rights to it, after which journalists and staff fled the premises. Since then, Meastro's satellite link has been used by the businessman to show a feed from Reuters. But now the Turkish satellite company Turkast has cut off the Reuters feed. Tbilisians have been witness to a strangely split TV station in recent times, with two versions of Maestro broadcasting in parallel -- one through the air and on the net, and one via satellite. The cofounder and former producer at Maestro Mamuka Glonti left the Maestro building together with journalists on November 30. They took with them some of their equipment and are now broadcasting from a radio studio via cable. Their broadcasts are visibly lacking in technical resources, their news reports without names and on the bottom the letters "SOS" are constantly shown. Meanwhile, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, head of Rustavi Media Management company, which signed a management contract with Maestro two ...

News

Government to ‘edit’ laws in Georgia

by | January 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government in Georgia has given itself the right to edit the wording of laws after they are passed in order to avoid misunderstandings. Recently a new law brought democracy groups to the streets to protest, but afterwards lawmakers claimed that the contentious part of the law was based on misinterpretation. The law seemed to involve so-called retroactive powers, which is banned by international conventions and means to punish someone for actions which were legal at the time. Many thought that the law was changed after pressure from the US embassy. Now Georgia's special website for legislative information -- Matsne -- has been entitled to make what's called "editorial amendments" to laws that have already been passed. The justice minister Zura Adeishvili has issued a special decree which changes the procedure for how laws are adopted, recorded, systematized and published. The website Matsne now has the right to do editorial corrections of errors, as long as it doesn't change the content of the law. It’s about correction of spelling and punctuation. Legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze claims that this decree of the Minister in ...

In brief, News

Eleventh Georgian soldier dies in Afghanistan

by | January 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Corporal Besik Niniashvili was serving in Helmand province with the Third Infantry Brigade’s 31th light infantry battalion within the frameworks of the ISAF mission. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry Niniashvili was killed when a mine exploded. He had the medal of Military Merit, an honorary diploma, a medal for combat wound and for participation in peacekeeping operations. Currently there are up to 950 Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan, according to official information from the Defense Ministry. In December, 2011, the government agreed to send one more battalion, which will be serving under American command. This will increase the size of Georgia’s contingent by 750, making it the biggest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF operation with 1 685 soldiers in total. Besik Niniashvili had been serving in the Georgian armed forces since 2007.  

News

New party of billionaire in February

by | December 31, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili plans on setting up a new political party in the beginning of February, DF Watch was told by the Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats, one of four parties are affiliated with Ivanishvili. Since the businessman lost his Georgian citizenship he is prevented from being involved in politics, due to legislation prohibiting non-Georgians from being involved in political processes and financing politics. The president revoked Ivanishvili’s citizenship shortly after he said ht wanted to enter politics. This has been seen as many as an attempt to prevent him from achieving his goal. The businessman took the decision to court, but lost when it comes to his own citizenship. However, the court gave back his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze’s citizenship. Meanwhile Ivanishvili set up a new public movement on December 11, and it is expected that this movement will be transformed into a party, though Alasania doesn’t exclude setting up completely new party. This will only be possible if the president grants Ivanishvili citizenship. The businessman previously had Russian and French citizenship as well as Georgian. When announcing his ...

In brief, News

Prisoners pardoned

by | December 31, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The President pardoned 114 convicts today, according to the Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance. 75 prisoners, four of whom are women, will leave jail, while 13 prisoners had their sentence halved and 26 had their suspended sentence lifted. The commission to review early release reviewed cases it had received from local councils the past three months and decided that 55 prisoners will leave prison early. The commission gave 73 positive recommendations in total, 15 of whom are women and one underage girl. The commission halves the sentence for 10 prisoners. Except for the Pardon Commission, the Georgian Orthodox Church and the prosecutor’s office send their own lists of persons recommended for clemency to the president. The pardoned prisoners will leave jail today.    

Media, News

Where did the newsstands go?

by | December 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Representatives of the media, press distributors and other supporters gathered Friday in front of the Holiday Inn at the center of Tbilisi to once again protest against the situation created around the newspapers and press distributing kiosks. ‘We light, Saakashvili darkens’ – this was the message written on fliers that rally participants were holding today. It is connected to Tbilisi City Hall’s program called ‘1000 booths’. Under the new project City Hall announced an auction to locate booths around in the capital, exactly on places where there have been newspaper kiosks for a long time. Shortly after this project was announced, hundreds of kiosks were taken away. As a result, it affected most of the newspapers and their runs. They have had to reduce their circulation, and the press distributor companies have already fired many of their personnel. People were holding lamps and lights as a symbol – to look for booths and kiosks which have been standing for years on specific places but now have disappeared. “This is forcing print media towards bankruptcy. With these lamps we are looking for ...

News

“Retroactive law” was a misunderstanding

by | December 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government says that the political partners of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili won’t have to return the money received from his companies for the last two months. Pavle Kublashvili (pictured), chairman of the Parliament Judiciary Issues Committee claimed this December 29 at the special briefing in parliament. The issue came to the public’s attention after changes were made to the law about political associations of citizens – a set of new regulations approved by parliament on December 28 which has already come into force and seemed for a brief time to apply to actions committed before it came into force. Adopting these regulations has been seen by experts and politicians alike as a violation of the Georgian constitution as well as international laws. Several influential pressure groups in Tbilisi pleaded with the president to use his veto powers and block the law, but Mikheil Saakashvili did not follow their advice and signed it. The new strict campaign finance rules will have most impact on four political parties that have partnered up with billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili: the Free Democrats, the Republic Party, the Conservative ...

News

It’s magic! Legal somersault in Tbilisi

by | December 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Lawmakers in the Georgian capital seem to have changed a law after it was signed by the president and entered into the formal record. The law raised a chorus of objections from activists who said it violated the constitution and international conventions. Now it appears that the offending paragraph of the law has been changed – as if by magic. The changes relate to the law about political associations of citizens, and the version signed by the president contained retroactive powers, but this clause has been changed a few hours after its publishing. The changes significantly tightened the rules on campaign financing. A number of restrictions were established, which applies not only to party members, but their family members and people directly or in-directly connected with them. In addition, there was written in the law that these restrictions would have retroactive power, which violates the Georgian constitution and international law. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) appealed to the president to use his veto powers to stop the law, but the president did not follow their pleas and the law was enforced on December 28 ...

In brief, News

Why, Mr President?

by | December 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Democracy activists and rights groups descended on president Saakashvili's palace in Tbilisi's Avlabari district Thursday to protest against his signing of a bill into law. Frustration and disbelief has been the dominating reaction among political circles after this became known, and in a spontaneous show of emotion, activists took to the streets outside Saakashvili's residence later in the day. Nina Khatiskatsi in Transparency International told Interpressnews the bill signed by the president is unconstitutional, and pointed out that the bill is forcing political parties to return donations made before the law was enacted. The law on campaign finance works restroactively and groups say it is a violation of the constitution and international treaties. Wednesday there was a brief window of opportunity during which the president could have vetoed the bill, and a number of influential organizations signed a plea to the president for him to use his veto powers, but without results. Tamar Chugoshvili, leader of Georgian Young Lawyer's Association, said that the group is going to ask the Constitutional Court to declare the amendments unconstitutional. In addition, they plan to carry ...

News

Georgia’s richest could become stateless

by | December 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, listed by Forbes as the world’s 185th richest, could become stateless, after today renouncing his French citizenship too. A little over two months ago the financier turned politician held triple French-Russian-Georgian citizenship, but after getting entangled in politics he has had to hand in two of them to get back the Georgian one, which he needs to form a political party. Mr Ivanishvili was robbed of his Georgian citizenship by President Saakashvili on grounds of a prohibition on double citizenships, and recently lost a court case to reclaim it. Three days ago he renounced his Russian citizenship, and today also his French, formally handing in the application to the French embassy in Georgia. Now set to become a stateless person, Ivanishvili appeals to Georgian officials to give him back his Georgian citizenship. “The European convention foresees that if a person renounces any of a European country’s citizenship he cannot remain without any citizenship. I appeal to Georgian official structures to grant me Georgian citizenship, because I don’t have citizenship of any other country,” Bidzina Ivanishvili stated today ...

Media, News

New details about who owns Georgian TV stations

by | December 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian TV stations have released information about who owns them. It has long been a general impression, but hard to prove, that Georgian TV stations are controlled by the government. The information substantiates these suspicions and shows to what extent persons around the country’s president have a stake in the broadcasting media. This comes as the result of a new law about transparency in media ownership, which is the initiative of the civil sector. For the last couple of days, Imedi TV and Rustavi 2 have published what is called declarations of conformity, where the names of the new and old owners are listed, as well as the size of their shares. The owners of Imedi TV according to the document are Joseph Kay (10%), Giorgi Arveladze (45%), Giorgi Korakhashvili (30%) and Giorgi Mikeladze (15%). These people are holders of the company Georgian Media Production Group, which is 100% shareholder of Imedi TV. Until November 2011, 90% of the company was registered offshore, while 10% was owned by Joseph Kay, cousin of Georgian tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who intended to go into politics ...

News

Prisoner torture ignored, claims MP

by | December 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Giorgi Tsagareishvili, chairman of the faction Unity for Justice and the member of the Free Democrats accuses the government of prisoner torture and demands that the Chief Prosecutor’s office investigates the torturing of a 22 year old prisoner. He told reporters at a press conference that the director and a security officer at prison hospital systematically physically and verbally abused prisoner Giorgi Okropiridze. The institution’s director is Alexandre Tolordaia and the security officer’s name is Giorgi Avsajanishvili. Tsagareishvili (pictured) further says that the prisoner, who was transferred to the hospital due to complications in relation to hepatitis C, was beaten using bare hands and a wet towel, so that there wouldn’t be visible swellings. “Okropiridze also harmed himself because of the tortures, but the doctor who came to visit him was forced to return, and said that it would be good if he will die emptied of blood. He is threatened with being killed and is told that they will disguise it as a suicide,” Tsagareishvili said. He claims that the prisoner submitted testimony about the torture to a judge, but he ...

In brief, News

US embassy’s statement

by | December 29, 2011

The US Embassy has released a statement regarding the changes to the Georgian Electoral Code and the legislation regarding campaign financing. DF Watch publishes it unchanged: “The United States supports free, fair and reliable elections in Georgia. Our attention is focused on the electoral process. We do not support any specific party or candidate. In this spirit, the US embassy carefully learned the amendments regarding the election campaign and political party financing into the electoral code and the law about the political associations, which parliament approved this week. We think that many amendments will support to create a competitive electoral environment along with the successful steps taken to eradicate the real or imaginary errors in the electoral lists before the parliamentary elections in 2012. We regret that an agreement wasn’t achieved regarding part of the new election code, which cast away the suspicions regarding unequalness in the electoral system. We fear that retroactive usage of the regulation regarding party financing will make the political competition even more unequal. Building democracy is a permanent process. We call for the Georgian government to continue working with the ...

In brief, News

President signed controversial campaign finance law

by | December 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president has signed the law about political associations of citizens, which imposes restrictions on campaign financing. The amendment includes restrospective powers, which are prohibited by international conventions and the Georgian constitution. This means that the law has come into force and political parties which have received financing which until now was entirely legal must return the money to the donor or transfer it to the state within three days. Parliament approved the law about political associations of citizens on December 28 and the president signed it the same day, despite the fact that many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) protested against it, asking the president not to sign this law, because it contains unconstitutional regulations that are also in violation of international law. Political parties and independent organizations fall under the law’s retrospective definition when they are directly or in-directly related to political associations which have received financing via violating the law regulation and haven’t spent the money before this law comes into force. They must return the money to the one who granted it within three calendar days from the ...

News, Opinion, Security

Fighting in Afghanistan for Georgia’s Security

by | December 29, 2011

Georgia has increased its military presence in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan making it the biggest non-NATO contributor to ISAF operations. The Georgian parliament supported this decision and the Christian Democratic Movement of Georgia voted in favor. This was a well thought-out decision designed for making Georgia a part of a global security network. Although this is was a painful decision and obviously has its downsides, we, Christian Democrats strongly support Georgia's active participation in NATO-led international operations and believe that rather than being just a consumer, Georgia should become an active contributor to the global security system. Today, the most effective way for Georgia to play a role in the world's security system and fight against global terrorism is to be actively involved in ISAF operations in Afghanistan. Taking into account the present developments in Russia, is Georgia taking an unnecessary risk by sending another battalion to Afghanistan? While not being a member of NATO, is it worth having more troops in Afghanistan than a majority of NATO members do? Will the Georgian troops be mobile enough to oppose ...

News, Opinion, Security

The Flanks That Should Be Well Defended

by | December 29, 2011

Pressure for democratic transformation and modernization challenges Georgia from three main “flanks”: Internal stability – that was not a matter for real concern for President Saakashvili until the public unrest in 2007; imperatives of the European and Euro-Atlantic Integration; a proper Ambition and the promises of the ruling party to the public. Difficult to say, which one is more important factor, but in my view the presented order is close to what is the priority. I would start from the ambitions that the Government of Georgia shows towards fast modernization of the country. A motivation is well apparent, and the results in lots of directions are really impressive. Yet the examples of all transition countries show (and Georgia is not an exception) that democratic transformation is the last concern of the governments in this process. It is somehow believed that economic liberties and consolidation of power, security of the state and safety of citizens, i.e strengthening of basic state functions shall be treated as a priority order. That may be echoes still weak public demand on the democratic institutions. Indeed, it ...

News

New law illegal, say rights groups

by | December 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Several authoritative non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Georgia consider the retrospective powers of a new law amendment unconstitutional and are asking the president to veto it. The amendment imposes sanctions on political parties that have received money via private companies during the last few months, which was and still is legal until January 1. The appeal is signed by Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International Georgia, Coalition Freedom of Choice and Open Society Georgia Foundation, which announced it at a press conference immediately after the bill was adopted December 28. By approving the bill, parliament is imposing restrictions on party financing and establishing a number of sanctions for violating them. According to the government, these restrictions and sanctions will apply to past actions, which runs counter to an established legal principle to not punish acts which were not a crime at the time. Firstly, this will create problems for political parties which have partnered up with the billionaire turned politician Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has boosted four opposition parties with 1.1 million lari in November and December, ...

Elections, News

Opposition must return tycoon’s gifts

by | December 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The political partners of the Georgian tycoon turned opposition leader will have to return the money they received from him. Otherwise, they must give it to the state. This is the consequence of a new bill approved by parliament on Wednesday at the third and last hearing. The final version of the bill states that 'political associations of citizens’ which have received funds in violation of its regulations and have not spent it by the moment of the enactment of the law, must return the money within three days. Otherwise, this sum must be handed over to the state. The law requires the signature of the president before it is effective. This means that the law applies to funds political parties received before the bill came into force. Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of Parliament's judicial committee, says that the law adopted by the parliament has no counteracting force. Authorities began the process to tighten the laws on campaign financing a few week ago. This was shortly after the richest Georgian and possible the richest man in the southern Caucasus region decided to ...

In brief, News

Gov’t postpones media monitoring debate

by | December 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The ruling party in Georgia has postponed until spring to decide how to monitor the media before next election in ten months time. If things stay the same, the national TV networks will have the same opportunities as last time. During the local elections in 2010, media monitoring was conducted with the support of the EU, and the report clearly indicates that the news coverage in the national networks was supportive of the government, violating standards regarding secret advertising, unbalanced programs, unequal conditions and other things. A group of media workers presented parliament with a proposal for how to address this problem. It suggests having a comprehensive media monitoring group before every election. They also demand new regulations to separate news and advertising items, so as to avoid secret advertising of candidates. Hidden political ads may have a bigger influence on society than clearly defined advertising. Another demand is to have a clear definition of what secret advertising is and to establish sanctions in case of violations. The group also thinks that during the election campaign, the state should compensate the expenses ...

Elections, Media, News

Access to media crucial in 2012 election

by | December 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - As a bundle of election related bills are up for final review in parliament, it became clear Tuesday that the ruling party is against a proposal prepared by media workers about how to conduct monitoring of media fairness during the election campaign. The proposal concerns changes to the Election Code and the law about the Political Unions of Citizens, two of the most important laws being updated. On several issues there was not agreement, and parts of the changes were therefore postponed to the third hearing later. Media monitoring is important, because the media in Georgia has been met with significant distrust from the population. The national TV networks are seen as fundamentally pro-government, and during past elections there have been gross violations of ethical standards, including a staged shooting on election day in May 2008, which appears to have been part of a PR exercise by president Mikheil Saakashvili to mobilize voters. In addition to direct violations, the coverage is largely perceived as biased and favoring the authorities, with national networks regularly providing the government with opportunities to hold spectacular ...

Elections, News

NGOs warn: unfair election system

by | December 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tuesday Georgia's new election system should have been passed in parliament, but the package of bills was stopped in the last minute by a group of rights activists, who warned of potential problems. The groups are sounding the alarm that the new election system does not create a level playing field. Several experts and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) think the rules are not only unfair, but also a hindrance to a democratic development in Georgia. Whereas a fair election environment and a competitive environment with equal conditions are necessary for a democratic development of the country, they point to many shortcomings in the proposed rules, pointing particularly to changes in the Electoral Code and the law about Political Unions of Citizens. The crux of the matter as they see it is that there are new restrictions on party financing. These make it hard for private players to affect the process. But on the other hand, there is not a correspondingly strict regime imposed on how the public makes use of its resources in the election campaign. This could lead to a ...

News

Court hands president partial rebuke

by | December 27, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tbilisi City Court has declared partially invalid a decree issued by President Mikheil Saakashvili on October 11 regarding a businessman and his wife’s citizenship. The court said the president had acted illegally when he issued the decree which revoked the citizenships of the couple, but only in dealing with the businessman’s wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze. When it comes to Ivanishvili himself, the court upholds the president’s decision, and he is therefore still prevented from participating in politics. A large crowd of people tried to push their way through the doors of the small court room to listen to the court’s decision. The judge took only a few minutes to read the ruling, which ended saying that the court partly satisfies the appeal, after which the lawyers ‘partly thanked’ him. Lawyers working for Ivanishvili greeted the ruling as somewhat of a victory. “We have won the court process in the part of the appeal about Ekaterine Khvedelidze. The court said that the president illegally revoked her citizenship. According to the court’s decision her Georgian citizenship will be restored,” Eka Beselia, one of the ...

In brief, News

Ivanishvili appeals court ruling

by | December 27, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A businessman has decided to appeal a court decision given today which upholds president Mikheil Saakashvili's decision to rob him of his Georgian citizenship. Bidzina Ivanishvili declared October 7 that he would use his significant wealth and influence to remove Saakashvili from power. Four days later the president revoked his citizenship, thereby blocking him from entering politics. Ivanishvili took the decision to court, arguing that it was politically motivated. Today at 2 pm, Tbilisi City Court upheld the president's decision, though restored the citizenship of Ivanishvili's wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze. Lawyers for Mr Ivanishvili told DFWatch that they consider the ruling a partial victory, since the court took their side regarding Khvedelidze, but they are not satisfied and have already decided to appeal the case as a first step towards claiming full rehabilitation of the businessman's citizenship status. The case now goes to the appeal's court, the mid level in Georgia's three tier justice system. If it doesn't rule in the businessman's favor, the case could eventually end up in the European Court of Human Rights. DFWatch will return later with more on ...

In brief, News

Citizenship decision today

by | December 27, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Will a city court in Georgia dare to go against the country’s president? By Tuesday afternoon this should be known, as Tbilisi City Court prepares to announce its ruling in a citizenship case. President Mikheil Saakashvili October 11 revoked a businessman’s citizenship, four days after the latter had declared he would mobilize his 5 billion dollar fortune to remove Saakashvili from power. But losing the citizenship blocked his progress, because it’s illegal for non-Georgians to engage in politics here. The case proceedings were characterized by lengthy speeches by the businessman’s lawyers, while the authorities answered in short statements lasting only a few minutes. Adding to the complexity of the case, yesterday it became known that Bidzina Ivanishvili had renounced his Russian citizenship. This means that he is now only a French citizen. Ivanishvili until recently was a triple Russian-French-Georgian citizen. His lawyers argued in the case that it was a mystery why his wife’s citizenship was also revoked. Ekaterine Khvedelidze already held a double French-Russian citizenship when she was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004. Lawyers for Ivanishvili have argued that president Saakashvili’s decision ...

In brief, News

Journalists compensated for May 26 violence

by | December 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Three of the journalists who were beaten and shot by police on May 26, 2011, will be fully compensated for health expenses and partly have their lost equipment compensated. Tbilisi City Court announced the decision Monday. In addition four media companies will be compensated. Batumelebi Ltd will be fully compensated for lost and damaged equipment. Akhali Ambebi’s request was only partially granted. It will get the value of one flip camera fully compensated. The demand by Chokhatauri Matsne was rejected. The judge said that the court agrees with the plaintiffs and their explanations, but in the cases where their demands were rejected there was unsufficient evidence to make a decision. The claimants have not yet decided whether to appeal, says Natia Kapanadze, lawyer at the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), who has been represented them. The case started October 4, when three journalists and four media units lodged a case in Tbilisi City Court demanding compensation for material and health damage sustained on May 26, 2011, when police violently raided a peaceful anti-government demonstration. The demonstrators were blocking the road in front ...

In brief, News

Ivanishvili renounces Russian citizenship

by | December 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili has renounced his Russian citizenship. This comes while there is only one day left until a court ruling about his Georgian citizenship. Ivanishvili held triple Georgian-Russian-French citizenship until recently, but is now only a French citizen. His Georgian citizenship was revoked by president Mikheil Saakashvili shortly after publishing an open letter in which he strongly criticized Saakashvili and declared his plans to claim power. Formally, the Georgian citizenship was terminated because authorities were unaware that Ivanishvili was a French citizen. Georgian legislation as a rule does not allow double citizenship, though there are exception to the rule and some people hold double citizenship. Not having a Georgian citizenship blocked Ivanishvili's political ambitions, because it means that  is not allowed to engage in any political activities in the country and is prohibited from financing political processes. He went to court, seeking to get the presidential decree declared invalid. Tbilisi City Court will announce its decision Tuesday at 2 pm. In anticipation of getting back the citizenship, Ivanishvili launched what is called a ‘public movement’, which does not require being ...

Environment, News

Turkey plans to divert water from Tbilisi river

by | December 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The river which runs through Tbilisi might have its waters levels lowered, because a Turkish power company wants to tap its energy higher up. The Mtkvari, Georgia’s largest river, may be substantially weakened. This could cause problems not only for Georgians, but also in neighboring Azerbaijan, where it feeds the main drinking water supply the Mingechauri reservoir. It’s a Turkish member of parliament who is the source for this dramatic news, quoted in the newspaper Rezonansi and confirmed by opposition and government in the Georgian parliament. According to Rezonansi, a delegation consisting of the district deputy of Ardagani and a member of the Turkey parliament told about the plan last week in the Georgian parliament. The project has the backing of the Turkish government and envisages building hydroelectric power stations at Beshic Haia at the source of the river Mtkvari. The source lies in the Turkish province of Ardagan. In case a power station cascade is built there, it will mean that some of the river's water flow will be diverted to the Black Sea through Turkey. Leader of the Christian Democrat ...

In brief, News

Decision in journalist beatings case

by | December 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tbilisi City Court will today announce its decision about compensation for the journalists who were beaten and shot by police on May 26. Journalist Beka Sivsivadze (photo) was hit by almost 40 rubber bullets, but is not part of the claim. Three journalists and four media units October 4 went to court to demand compensation for damages they suffered to themselves and their equipment at the hands of police, during a violent police raid against a peaceful demonstration May 26. During proceedings the Ministry of Internal Affairs accepted responsibility, and December 13 offered to pay compensation for the health damages, some of it from rubber bullets, but refused to cover parts of the claim which deals with lost and destroyed equipment, due to the lack of evidence.  

News

Warns of destruction of historic square

by | December 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A large crowd gathered Saturday on Gudiashvili square in Tbilisi to protest against City Hall’s plans to modernize it. The rally participants demand that City Hall organizes a public meeting about the plans to reassure people that the square is not in danger. They claim the project has not been agreed with society. Gudiashvili lies not far from Freedom Square, and most non-Georgians might know it best as the location of Cafe PurPur (see map below). What sparked the protest was a notice on city hall’s web pages a few weeks ago announcing real estate opportunities on Gudiashvili square. “This project’s main goal is the reconstruction of the historic buildings which are located in this area. The buildings can be transformed into hotels, cafes or restaurants,” the statement says. But the protesters think that that the new project will destroy the historical values of the square. It later emerged that the Austrian Company Zechner & Zechner has won the competition for the project, and their illustrations are available on the internet. Nine buildings surround the square, which also has a centuries old history. Demonstrators ...

News

Who’s worse? The foreign hand in Georgian politics

by | December 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian opposition parliamentarian who asked authorities to map out how opposition parties receive their funding, has presented a list showing that the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili is also being financed from abroad, including from Russia. The outspoken MP Giorgi Tsagareishvili’s request to the country’s chief prosecutor was originally meant to clear the air after a wave of unsubstantiated claims in the national TV that a popular financier turned politician is being financed from Russia. The claims were eventually repeated in parliament by representative Gia Tortladze. While originally elected as part of the opposition in 2008, he has gone along with the government's line while in parliament, and recently echoed the claims made by pro-government TV about the billionaire  Bidzina Ivanishvili’s alleged Russian links. Tsagareishvili requested an investigation to find out specifically what money these parties are receiving to ‘once and for all end the discussions of what money Ivanishvili is giving to his partners.’ After Tsagareishvili’s request, police have been working on mapping out opposition parties’ financing. The results show quite clearly that a lot of their money ...

News, Security

Georgia’s new national security concept

by | December 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Givi Targamadze, chairman of Parliament's Defense and Security Committee, states that the government should use the national security concept as a daily action document. He made this statement on December 23 in parliament as the National Security Concept was approved. This is the second security concept in the history of the country. The Georgian National Security Council began working on it at the beginning of 2011 and the document lists all the challenges the country is facing. It will be approved at the end of the year. Sovereignty and territorial integrity are named as Georgia’s national values in the document; also freedom; democracy and rule of law; prosperity and peace. The national interests of Georgia, according to the document, are providing sovereignty and territorial integrity, strengthening the state institution and the democracy; European and National integration; providing for Georgia’s role as a transit point; providing economic growth; providing national and cultural uniqueness; and demographic security. According to Georgia’s national security concept, the risk exists of Russian aggression, because the final goal of the Russian Federation in August was not the occupation of ...

News

Theatres to reject opposition financing

by | December 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - From next year, Georgian theatres will refuse to accept help from billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, culture minister Nika Rurua said on December 23. Artists are saying the government forced theatre directors to make this decision. The directors have not commented. Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has been supporting the development of Georgian culture for years. The support has been given both as individual assistance, but also to the theatres. For the last years these donations have totaled more than a million lari. After Ivanishvili declared that he would go into politics, the government has been portraying his philanthropy as self-interest and claiming that his actions are dictated by Russian policy. Meanwhile, the government decided to tighten the rules about party financing. A bill is under review in parliament which will change the law on Political Unions of Citizens. As the bill now stands, legal persons will not only be prohibited from financing political parties, but also financing a person or organization directly or indirectly connected to politics. The strongest criticism of this proposal has come from lawyers, who say it contains too much room ...

News

A catalogue of brutality

by | December 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - In spite of early reports of three dead, five people actually died when police raided and dispersed a peaceful anti-government protest in Tbilisi on May 26, 2011. The horrors visited upon those who were there is the topic of a lengthy report published Friday by the Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA). GYLA's report reviews excessive use of force by police, interruption of journalistic work, five deaths, arrests and other events that took place on and around May 26, including the period right before the rally, when there were mass arrests all over the country. The background for police moving in was that demonstrators were blocking the road in front of parliament, where a military parade was planned the next day to mark 20 years of independence. Five deaths are reviewed in detail, despite the fact that the working group had many difficulties obtaining the evidence in criminal law cases and testimonies of witnesses and suspects. Four of the victims were participants in the rally and one of them a police officer. The first case which is reviewed in the report is ...

Media, News

Want strengthened protection of media

by | December 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Editor of newspaper Rezonansi Eliso Chapidze (pictured) and a group of media workers Friday submitted a bill to parliament, asking for strengthened protection of journalists ahead of next year's parliamentary eleciton. The authors of the bill asks to create the conditions so journalists can work in accordance with international standards. One of their proposals is to have more transparency in the finances of media. “It’s very important; we should be very transparent to avoid the transfer of the administrative resources into the media, which is controlled by the government,” says editor in chief of the newspaper Rezonansi Lasha Tugushi, who has been working on the bill since May together with media expert Zviad Koridze, editor of Rezonansi Eliso Chapidze, legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze and lawyer Alexander Baramidze. The changes also include issues like media monitoring and regulation of paid and free political advertising. The working group considers it very important to separate journalistic products and advertising, in order to avoid hidden advertisements, especially since the government recently proposed to restrict party financing. The initiative group thinks that the prices of political advertisement ...

News

Media monitoring lacks opposition’s trust

by | December 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Ten months before Georgia is to hold parliamentary elections, there is still distrust towards how the national TV networks will do their job. The government announced Thursday that it wants to change the way media monitoring is done. Chariman of parliament's legal affairs committee Pavle Kublashvili says there is a discussion to shift responsibility from the Central Election Commission (CEC) to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. But this did not assuage concerns among the opposition. The Christian Democrat party is opposed to both CEC and the communications commission doing the monitoring. Levan Vepkhvadze believes that the monitoring will have more transparency and credibility if it is done by an independent agency working under international guidance. The media in Georgia has previously been criticised for being slanted in favor of authorities, while the government outwardly claims that the national networks are fair and neutral. As a measure to address concerns, there is done a monitoring of the television channels' coverage of politics in the period before an election. In the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008, this monitoring was the responsibility of the Central Election ...

In brief, News

Last chance to adjust election system

by | December 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Today several laws are up for revision which will change Georgia's election system and set the ground rules for the parliamentary election in October 2012. This will be the second hearing of the changes in the constitution, the electoral code and the law on political associations. Included in the bill are new rules and regulations, some of which are part of an agreement between the government and part of the opposition. But there are also new regulations that the government has introduced on its own, some of which have been controversial. There are new restrictions on party financing which many see as a measure to prevent a financier turned politician from playing a role in the next election. The bill will be passed at a special session next week.

News

Claims president had conflict of interest

by | December 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili had a conflict of interest when revoking a businessman’s citizenship, lawyers argued in Tbilisi City Court Thursday. The case concerns Bidzina Ivanishvili, a popular financier, who October 7 declared that he wanted to run in next year’s parliamentary election. Four days later, Saakashvili personally signed a decree which means he is no longer a citizen and can’t participate in politics. Mr Ivanishvili’s legal team today continued laying out their reasons for asking that the decree be declared invalid. Shalva Tadumadze spoke first, making clear that the president didn’t have the authority to revoke the citizenships of the businessman and his wife under Georgian legislation. But even if he had such an authority, Tadumadze says, the President is an interested party, because apart from being president, he is the leader of the ruling political group, which automatically makes him an interested party, and if a person is an interested party, he can’t make such a decision. The lawyers say that Saakashvili wanted to get rid of a strong political opponent. To strengthen this position, Eka Beselia, another of ...

In brief, News

Georgia to allow conscientious objection

by | December 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Citizens of Georgia will be allowed to apply for an alternative service to the military, based on religious, ethical and other grounds. The change comes after a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which decided in favor of the country’s Public Defender, who had sued the parliament for being in breach of the constitution. Ombudsman Giorgi Tugushi had argued that the law on Reserve Military Service conflicts with parts of the Georgian constitution. Specifically, the appeal pointed out that the law deprives people who hold certain religious, ethical or other views of their freedom of belief, guaranteed by the constitution, as long as they are not offered an alternative way to serve. The Public Defender in his appeal wrote that ‘the Military Reserve Service, alike the Compulsory Military service, creates legitimate grounds for good faith resistance stipulated by the good faith of people’ The Constitutional Court agreed with Tugushi, and accordingly, the law on Reserve Military Service was found unconstitutional.  

In brief, News

Battling poverty through pearly whites

by | December 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, is embarking on a bold new plan to repair the teeth of all the elderly in his country. “Let’s fill, insert and polish the teeth on all, so that they will be in a good mood and can smile all the time,” Saakashvili said as he announced his ambitious plan, called “Smiling Georgia”. The president’s announcement came in the midst of his own birthday celebration on December 21, which took place in a municipality dining room in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea close to Turkey. Socially challenged elderly had been invited to his party, whom he treated to a meal consisting of caviar and Spanish cheese; a present from friends of the Georgian leader. The aim of project “Smiling Georgia” is to send the entire elderly population to the dentist, on the notion that bad teeth may lead to a gloomy outlook on life. “When a person has a problem with teeth, he loses the joy to work, joy to smile and has a different opinion of the world,” Saakashvili said. Saakashvili said the program will ...

In brief, News

Martens supports Georgia’s ruling party

by | December 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Belgian veteran politician Wilfried Martens says he supports the party of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, the National Movement. Wilfried said this Wednesday on a news show on one of the Georgian national networks. During their conversation, President Saakashvili said his movement is not dependent on persons, and that he will keep on as long as he is able to make a contribution. The president said his strongest opponents are forces from the past; what he termed 'neo-shevardnadzists', alluding to the name of former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze. The National Movement has observer status in the European People's Party, which Martens co-founded in 1976. The EPP is a center-right political party which works towards a further deepening of European integration, primarily through the EU. (Image shows Wilfried Martens, co-founder of the European People's Party.)

In brief, News

Businessman has a backup plan

by | December 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The businessman who is trying to claim power in Georgia has a plan for what to do in case he doesn't get back his citizenship. One of his lawyers, Zakaria Kutsnashvili, said this Wednesday. He was answering a questions from a representative of the Estonian embassy, who wanted to know what Mr Ivanishvili plans to do if his court case to reclaim his citizenship fails. A citizenship is required in order to engage in politics in the country. Mr Kutsnashvili answered that a backup plan is underway, but primarily the legal team is looking to see justice enforced by the court. Ivanishvili's lawyers and associates met foreign diplomats to explain a number of legal troubles he is having after going to politics in October. One of the topics was Mr Ivanishvili's citizenship, which has been revoked, making it illegal for him to be involved in politics. They also discussed the crisis which has struck the businessman's Cartu Bank, which is accused of money laundering and has suffered from a new law regarding debt claims. Cartu Bank director Nodar Javakhishvili met the diplomats to ...

In brief, News

Citizenship case continues today

by | December 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tbilisi City Court 10 am today continued hearing the case of businessman Bidzina ivanishvili and his wife Ekaterina Khvedelidze. The couple are asking the court to declare invalid a decree by president Mikheil Saakashvili which revoked their citizenship. This made it illegal for Mr Ivanishvili to run in next year's parliamentary election. Polls show him close to the ruling National Movement party in popularity. The last hearing in the case two days ago exposed that authorities had acted on assumptions when the citizenships were revoked. Ivanishvili's lawyers argue that the decision was politically motivated. (Source: Interpressnews.)

News

Human rights groups targeted in Georgian power game

by | December 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government in Georgia is planning to make it illegal for human rights groups to let their criticism of the situation be used in party politics. If they violate the rule, their funding will be restricted. Businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili is doing well in the polls ahead of Georgia’s election next year, but is confronting a growing list of legal obstacles that authorities are introducing. Another one came Wednesday, when a new rule was proposed which will prevent independent organizations from getting entangled in party politics. Much of the political discussion in Georgia comes from a large number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). After the restriction comes into force, it will be illegal for them to let their reports be used by a political party. If they are caught, the government could restrict their funding. Legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze says the new restriction is vague and gives a lot of room for interpretation. The restriction comes as part of a law on party financing which has been given preliminary approval by parliament and is expected to be passed by the end of the year. Commentators ...

Media, News

Georgian newspapers are being strangled

by | December 21, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - One of the chain of newspapers outlets in Tbilisi tell of a more than 80% drop in sales. The reason is that city hall has physically torn down most of their kiosks. The press association warns that that this could kill free press in the country. This was the gloomy forecast laid out at a press conference today, where representatives of newspaper distributors and the head of the Georgian Press Association listed the alarming figures that are the results of Tbilisi City Hall’s project ‘100 Booths’. The City Hall says it aims to improve conditions for small and medium sized businesses, and announced an auction for locations of new kiosks which includes places where there have been newspaper kiosks for years. Because the prices in the auction are very high, it’s unlikely that existing distributors will be able to afford the lease, even if they win the contract. Another argument City Hall is making is that the newspaper kiosks have been illegally located at their current locations. But at the meeting in Tbilisi Marriot Hotel on Wednesday, a representative of a press distribution company rejected ...

In brief, News

6.2% growth in 2011

by | December 21, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia will have 6.2% growth in the economy in 2011. But the prices will have increased 10.5%. In the third quarter of 2011, Georgia’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 7.5% compared to last year's third quarter, and amounted to 6 203 million lari by current prices, which is nearly 38 billion US dollars, according to the national statistics department. According to the report, the price index grew 7.7% in Q3 of this year, compared to the same period last year. All three quarters of 2011 taken together, the real increase of the GDP in the period is 6.2%, and the price index rise 10.5%. Zaza Chelidze, executive director of Georgian Statistics said at a December 19 briefing that the bureau estimates that the adjusted growth for the whole year will be 6.2%, compared to 2010, while the price index grew 10.5%. Broken down by sectors of the economy, the third quarter data show that there has been most growth within the sectorial structures of the GDP (18.3%); followed by trade (17.2%), transport and communications (11%), state government (10.4%), agriculture, fisheries (9.3%), ...

Economy, News

Investment climate used to justify weak worker security

by | December 21, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian workers have almost no job security due to a weak labor code. This is a conscious policy choice by the government, justified by the need to attrack investors. The main problem Georgian workers face is that an employer can fire an employee at any time without explanation. That’s one of the findings in a new report about regulations in the labor market presented by Georgian Young Lawyers Association Monday at Tbilisi Metekhi Palace Hotel. The survey covers labor relations, or how the legislation regulates the relations between the employers and employees. There are also serious problems with labor contracts, and the issue of holidays is not properly regulated, so people often do not get the holiday they have a right to. Another problem is that people working overtime are not paid extra for it, even if he or she is ordered to do so by the employer. Often people are afraid to get fired and they ‘close their eyes’ on things like working extra hours, or not having their holidays. In this case often the employer abuses his responsibilities and takes ...

Media, News

Media picketed president’s palace

by | December 20, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian media workers Monday continued the campaign to raise awareness of the pressure they are coming under on several fronts. Employees of an evicted TV station joined newspaper staff to picket the president’s residence in Avlabari in the center of Tbilisi. Many people wore a red tie symbolizing that the media doesn’t have an opportunity to work freely in the country. Recently the independent TV station Maestro was taken over by an investor and staff evicted, while the town hall in the capital has taken away newspaper kiosks and stands. Eliso Chapidze, editor of the daily newspaper Rezonansi says that the reason for protesting in front of the president’s residence is because the ‘harassment policy against the free media comes from the supreme leader and not from a specific official.’ Lasha Tugushi, editor in chief of Rezonansi and the head of the Georgian Press Association stated that every newspaper booth in the capital has been taken away, which is an ‘abomination and unprecedented behavior.’ “We came to the residence to say once again: President Saakashvili, do not kill the press! Just as we ...

News

Controversial bill scrapped

by | December 20, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia will not increase the number of members of parliament. Raising the number of MPs was one of several controversial proposed changes to the election system as the country heads into an election year. Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of parliament’s judiciary committee told journalists that the plan has been scrapped after a meeting with parliamentary speaker David Bakradze Monday. As the bill now stands, there will be only minor changes in the electoral system. The number of MPs will stay 150, but 73 of them will be chosen by a majoritarian rule, one from a majoritarian single electoral district and 77 via party lists. Today 75 are elected through the majoritarian system and 75 are chosen via a party list. Two places lose their majoritarian representative. That’s because part of Georgia’s territory has been occupied since last election. These are the majoritarian districts of Liakhvi Valley and Akhalgori. Because these territories are still occupied following the war in August 2008, elections cannot be conducted there and accordingly, these two mandates will instead be added to the MPs chosen via party lists. The bill ...

News

Authorities’ urgency scrutinized in citizenship case

by | December 20, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The authorities in Georgia moved with lightening speed and acted on assumptions when revoking a businessman’s citizenship right after he had announced a new opposition movement. A court in Tbilisi today continued to hear the case of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, a newcomer to politics who scores roughly as high as the ruling party in the polls. It was very hot in the session hall, and people kept complaining about the heat during the whole session. But listeners who could withstand the temperature heard the court make the Civil Registry explain just what reasoning lay behind the decision to take away his and his wife citizenship, which prevented him from forming a political party and stand for election. Particularly, how did they know that Mr Ivanishvili held a French citizenship, apart from him writing it in an open letter? The hearing picked up on what happened at the end of the first hearing on December 12 when during a questions and answers session one of the businessman’s lawyers, Eka Beselia, tried to find out whether the president knew which date Ivanishvili’s ...

News

Parlament orders inquest into businessman’s finances

by | December 20, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - An opposition lawmaker aligned with Bidzina Ivanishvili calls for the government to go through the financial activities of the billionaire in order to clear up accusations leveled against him. The request came Tuesday from Giorgi Tsagareishvili, member of the Free Democrats and chairman of the parliamentary faction Unity for Justice. He was responding to statements made by another opposition politician, Gia Tortladze, who according to Tsagareishvili has come to defend the government’s line. What prompted the latest exchange was when Tortladze called Bidzina Ivanishvili an oligarch and that he is using Russian money to try to cause disturbances in Georgia. With this in mind, Ivanishvili distributes money to specific parties and persons, Tortladze said, and added that he has trustworthy information about this. After having said this, Tortladze left the session hall. Gia Tortladze was elected as part of the opposition in the parliamentary elections in 2008, but after being elected has actively defended the positions of the government. Officially he is still considered head of the opposition faction. As a response, Tsagareishvili said that unfortunately there are people within political ...

News

Uphold the law!

by | December 20, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The evicted Georgian TV journalists are keeping alive an emergency schedule, while taking to the streets again today to ask for solidarity. Maestro currently shows the letters “SOS” continuously at the bottom of the screen and runs an ad in which their most recognizable profiles tell authorities to give them back their equipment and building and uphold the law. Friday they rallied, and today the demonstrations continue, this time in front of the president’s residence in Avlabari in the old district of Tbilisi. Their demand is that authorities intervene and remove businessman Erosi Kitsmarishvili from their main studio building so they may reestablish normal operation. Kitsmarishvili's basis for climbing the wall outside Maestro in the morning dusk of November 30 and taking it over is an agreement he signed two years ago which gave the former cable channel a new influx of money in exchange for management rights. While Mr Kitsmarishvili says he is acting on his own behalf, former producer Mamuka Glonti has repeatedly said that what has happened is orchestrated by President Saakashvili and likened it to the police ...

News

Will businessman get a fair hearing?

by | December 20, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - At 2 pm today the courtcase which could decide Georgia’s future continues. The question before Tbilisi City Court is whether to declare invalid a decree issues by President Mikhail Saakashvili. The decree robbed Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili of his citizenship, thereby making it illegal for him to enter politics. His lawyer appealed the decision, but the case has dragged out, once postponed because the judge fell ill. While waiting for a decision, Mr Ivanishvili has launched what’s called a public movement as a vehicle for his political ambitions, which is legal even for non-citizens. Five lawyers are representing Bidzina Ivanishvili and his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze, whose citizenship also was revoked, and they are facing lawyers for the president’s administration as well as the third party in the case; the Civil Registry. The session on December 12 lasted for four hours without break and saw a tense deliberation with the plaintiff twice demanding that the judge be taken off the case, first because he said he had an ‘inner belief’ in the correctness of what the Civil Registry stated, and secondly after the ...

Media, News

Media to have common defense

by | December 19, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - An attack on one is an attack on all. That’s the principle for a new organization formed today by heads and representatives of several Georgian media units. Within one week a working group will prepare a set of rules for how to coordinate a common response when attacks happen. The initiative comes in the wake of the takeover of Maestro TV on November 30. The journalists and staff of the station have been evicted from their studios but keep on broadcasting from a makeshift studio originally meant for producing only radio. Mamuka Glonti, co-founder of the independent TV station Maestro, announced the new unit at a protest rally Maestro journalists held last Friday to demand that they are allowed to return to their normal journalistic working conditions like it was ‘before Erosi Kitsmarishvili’s intervention.’ Glonti called for the heads of all media outlets to set up new media unit and this way ‘an attack on one media unit will be perceived as an attack on all media outlets.’ At today’s meeting, which was held at Tbilisi Marriott Hotel, it was said ...

News

Promise: no Putin scenario in Georgia

by | December 19, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Two of Mikheil Saakashvili's ministers say he won’t cling on to power as prime minister after he steps down in 2013, but the president himself refuses to give a definite answer. Prime Minister Grigol Vashadze said it is not going to happen, while Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia went even further and promised it on behalf of his boss while talking to foreign media. There is continued speculation that Saakashvili might decide to become prime minister after the end of his second term, following constitutional changes a year ago which decreased the powers of the president while increasing those of the prime minister. The government has said the changes are done to accommodate demands from the opposition to balance the powers of the state. But although the powers of the president have been decreased, in return the powers of the prime minister have increased, in effect just exchanging the title president with that of prime minister. This has raised expectations that Saakashvili is preparing for himself to remain as the real manager of the country and that we will see a ...

In brief, News

President Saakashvili, don’t kill the press!

by | December 19, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Today many Georgian newspapers are running the same slogan on their frontpage: "President Saakashvili, don't kill the press!" The reason is a new plan by Tbilisi City Hall to remove newspaper sellers from the whole capital and put in place a new system of kiosks. There is doubt whether the new kiosks will be distributing newspapers freely -- or at all. Many of the newsstands and old kiosks have been forced away already, and newspapers are experiencing a sharp drop in circulation numbers. The subscription system is not a viable means of distribution in Georgia, and newspapers are therefore reliant on kiosks and newsstands to reach their readers. Some of the papers running this slogan in today's edition are Asaval Dasaval, Kronika, Kviris Palitra, Resonance, Versia, and Axali Taoba.

News

Ethics charter remains unchanged

by | December 19, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - For the second year in a row, the organization behind a Georgian journalistic ethics charter was unable to pass a revised charter because too few members showed up. At its third annual session on Saturday, held in Tbilisi Courtyard Marriot, three new members were accepted and the chairman was reelected. The changes which were up for review this year are the same as last year and deals with cases of violations by persons who are not a member of the charter. According to the Charter council there are more than 200 signatories to the Charter; but only 87 of them registered for Saturday’s meeting. For the vote to be valid at least 2/3 of the members must attend. This became the subject of discussion. Goga Aptsiauri, journalist at Radio Liberty Georgia made the first critical comment saying that maybe the ‘charter is counting its last minutes.’ His comment was followed by a longer discussion in the hall. One of the problems mentioned was the fact that the charter isn’t able to increase its awareness and the council isn’t able to organize ...

In brief, News

WTO signed Russia up as member

by | December 17, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - After an eighteen year long struggle, Russia on Friday finally signed the document which formally makes it a member of the World Trade Organization. The ceremony took place in Geneva with Elvira Nabiullina, Russia’s Minister of Economic Development, sitting down with Pascal Lamy, head of WTO, to sign the membership agreement. For the last few years, the Georgia has been using its veto powers to block a Russian WTO membership after the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. In November an agreement was achieved between the two countries after mediation by Switzerland. As a result of the agreement, an international monitoring force will be established on the borders between Russia and Georgia to check goods moving between the two countries. After signing the document, it must be ratified by Russia. Thirty days after ratfifying the agreement, Russia will become full member of WTO.  

News

Rubin: Georgia should listen to CoE advice

by | December 17, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Eric Rubin, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs says that the United States supports Georgia’s aspirations towards integration with Euro Atlantic structures and NATO and is working on forming a common position regarding Georgia among the alliance member countries at NATO’s Chicago summit next May. But before the summit he focuses on the importance of elections. According to him, it will be profitable for Georgia to foresee in the Election Code as many recommendations of the Venice Commission as possible. Eric Rubin made this statement in Tbilisi on December 16 at a press conference at the US embassy. Among Rubin’s responsibilities as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs is to supervise relations with Caucasus countries. He is currently in Georgia on a working visit. Within the framework of the visit he plans to hold meetings with the government as well as the opposition and representatives of the civil sector. Internal policy issues have been discussed on the meetings; also Georgian security and the country’s integration in the Euro Atlantic sphere. Eric Rubin ...

News

Georgia sends extra battalion to Afghanistan

by | December 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili Friday asked the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for permission to send one more infantry battalion. The decision requires the approval of parliament. Early indications are he is likely to get it at a special session next week. One battalion normally means 600-650 soldiers, but the government has yet to specify the exact number. The new battalion will be serving under American command. At present, the country has agreed with ISAF to have one infantry company and instructors group, serving in a French contingent, one infantry battalion in the American contingent and another contingent serving with Turkish forces. Among non-NATO member countries Australia has the biggest contingent in Afghanistan with 1 550 soldiers. The current Georgian contribution totals 950 soldiers, according to official information from the Defense Ministry. Soldiers of three infantry battalions, who have signed up voluntarily, are serving in the volatile Helmand province, where 10 Georgian soldiers had died until today. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Georgia in November that the Georgian contingent in Afghanistan will be increased to between ...

Media, News

Solidarity!

by | December 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Journalists working for an embattled Georgian TV station today called for solidarity and announced that they will found a new media unit. The rally took place in front of a local police building on Nutsubidze Plateau, not far from the center of Tbilisi, and the main demand is that they be allowed to continue their work under normal conditions. Journalists from other Georgian media outlets, as well as politicians and representatives of non-governmental organizations, joined them to show support, holding placards and blowing whistles for about forty minutes. Mamuka Glonti, one of the co-founders and a former producer at Maestro TV, called for the heads of all media units to gather on Monday in Tbilisi Marriott Hotel in order to set up a new media unit. “Let’s come together organizationally, all the media, on the principle which NATO has, that an attack on one media unit will be perceived as an attack on all media outlets,” he appealed, asking representatives of media to show up on Monday and sign a memorandum. Glonti demanded that the police let the legitimate director of Maestro, ...

News

‘The truth will always win’

by | December 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Irakli Alasania, the leader of the Free Democrats and front man of the strongest opposition bloc in Georgia, hits back at ‘fabrications’ spread by the country’s ‘government-controlled media’ about them being pro-Russian. The Free Democrats and the Republican Party are the two groups billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has formed a loose partnership with in preparation for next year’s parliamentary election. The government has repeatedly accused them of being pro-Russian, in reports carried by the three national networks. In a video appeal sent out by his press office, Alasania Thursday explained that the Ivanishvili bloc’s ‘firm position is that Georgia’s future is in NATO and the EU, and this position is not subject for review.’   DFWatch brings you the video and a transcript unchanged.     I am Irakli Alasania, the leader of the Free Democrats, and I thank you for finding the time to listen to me. From today, we will have the chance to hold discussions and talk about important issues of the country. But this will happen without the government-controlled media. During the last weeks, groundless attacks have been leveled against my partners Bidzina ...

News

‘Just days left’ of exiled Maestro

by | December 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The staff of an independent TV station in Georgia are keeping alive its broadcasts from a radio studio, as its former producer warns that there are only days left until they get cut from the airwaves. “Maybe there are just days left for us to broadcast. The implementation of Imedi 2 enters a decisive phase,” wrote Mamuka Glonti on his Facebook page Thursday. Imedi is a TV station which was formerly admired for it's independent reporting, but was stormed by police in 2007 and later came under government-friendly control. The co-founder and former producer at Maestro TV wrote that they have information that the government has begun to put pressure on the cable companies for them to ‘switch off Maestro.’ Maestro is currently broadcasting from its radio studio, while Erosi Kitsmarishvili is in negotiations with cable companies to restore TV broadcasting from its original building, which he is in control of. On November 30, Kitsmarishvili and around ten unknown men broke into Maestro's main studios by climbing over a wall in the early morning dusk. Maestro journalists called the police for ...

News

New parliament ‘better than Strasbourg and Brussels’

by | December 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian Minister of Regional Development is sure that the new Georgian parliament building (pictured) will be better than parliament buildings in Strasbourg and Brussels. Currently Georgia’s parliament is housed in the old historic building on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi. Following a presidential decision which made changes to the constitution, the assembly will meet in a newly built complex in the city of Kutaisi, in the Western part of Georgia. According to the constitution, parliament will be able to continue functioning in the new building after the final results of the parliament elections scheduled for October 2012 have been announced. The construction of the new parliament has already begun and the president has several times made it clear that on May 26 of next year, which is Georgia’s independence day, the construction phase will end. How much money will be spent on the building is secret. The amount is neither listed in the 2011 nor 2012 budget, which is subjected to criticism from the opposition. During one of parliament’s sessions the opposition demanded to know how much money has been set aside for building ...

In brief, News

‘Georgia’s C-SPAN’ had filming interrupted

by | December 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - An opposition lawmaker has accused a Georgian politics channel of having been pressured by the government to stop the filming of a political meeting. A lawmaker claims that the work of the public "C-SPAN" like channel in Georgia was interrupted by government intervention. Dimitri Lortkipanidze of the parliamentary faction Unity for Justice said a camera crew from the Second Channel arrived to film a meeting he had with victims of Soviet repression, but stopped filming after only two or three minutes and left the place. Now Lortkipanidze is demanding an explanation from the chairman of Second Channel, Dodo Shonava. Second Channel is one of the two nationwide channels left over from Soviet times. In 2009, it was reorganized in the wake of the protests that summer, and now works on the basis of a memorandum with parliament meant to give more voice to alternative political groups. According to news agency Pirveli, the MP says that the cameramen yesterday explained that the reason they interrupted the filming was that the victims of repression themselves requested it, a reason Lortkipanidze considers absurd. He thinks the real ...

News

Football star explains why he left

by | December 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Public figures continue coalescing around a Georgian billionaire businessman who recently decided to go into politics and a few days ago officially established a new movement called Georgian Dream. At the movement’s launch ceremony in Tbilisi Concert Hall December 11, a famous Georgian football (soccer) player announced that he is leaving the national team, where he has been captain for fifteen years, and expressed his full support to the newly established movement and its goals. FC Milan paid 16 million euros for Kakhi Kaladze’s transfer and in 2001 he became the most highly paid Georgian player. At the presentation of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s new movement he said that this was a very difficult decision for him to make, as he had been protecting the dignity of his team for 15 years. “During this period I had 83 matches with the national team. The most regrettable was one match, which is affecting me. It happened by accident, but once again I apologize to the Georgian fans,” he said, referring to the match on September 5, 2009, against Italy when he scored two own ...

News

Tabula steps up pressure on TI

by | December 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian magazine is increasing the pressure on Transparency International and asks its headquarters to cut one the chapters in a report. Tabula has sent a statement to the US ambassador, the director of USAID, and representatives of IREX, and even to the head office of Transparency International in Berlin, asking to have retracted a chapter of a new report by TI Georgia about the Georgian advertising market. The reason is that Tabula considers itself unfairly portrayed. The chapter in question is called ‘Tabula Versus Liberali’, and deals with how unevenly advertisement revenues are distributed in the Georgian market among otherwise similar media outlets. The great difference is explained as a symptom of a significant monopolization of the advertisement sector, where a few large companies are favoring those outlets that are least independent. Ilustrating the situation, the report compares those two weekly magazines. The editor in-chief and founder of Tabula magazine is Tamara Chergoleishvili, wife of Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, and a close ally of president Saakashvili. It says that famous companies like the Georgian Lottery Company, which according ...

In brief, News

New protests in Tskhinvali today

by | December 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva in Georgia’s breakaway republic South Ossetia is calling for supporters to return and continue the protest against the cancelled election results. Dzhioyeva Sunday called off her demonstrations on Tskhinvali’s main square, and asked on supporters to go home. It seemed for a few days that an agreement between her and the authorities would hold. It meant the dismissal of three top officials, in addition to president Eduard Kokoity, who left his post Saturday. But Wednesday the region’s elected assembly blocked the dismissal of two officials; the supreme court chief and the prosecutor general. Dzhioyeva afterwards said in a statement directed at the Russian government that the situation now is so difficult that it requires ‘urgent response’ in order to avoid a civil war. But Russian president Dimitry Medvedev said that the people who live in the region must decide how to run it, and Russia can only offer to be a mediator, according to RIA Novosti. South Ossetia held internationally unrecognized presidential elections on November 27. Initial results indicated that Alla Dzhioyeva won a decisive victory ...

In brief, News

‘Ashton to probe Ivanishvili case’

by | December 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is going to confront the Georgian government about the case of a businessman who is struggling to establish a political movement. Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili has been subject to a number of misfortunes at the hands of the authorities after he declared his wish to go into politics and challenge Mikheil Saakashvili’s position. The EU’s top foreign diplomat will be asking Georgian authorities what is going on, to find out whether fundamental democratic principles have been respected. The source for this claim is the Republican Party in Georgia, which has sent out a press release saying Sir Graham Watson, the President of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, discussed Ivanishvili’s case with the Republican Party leader Davit Usupashvili a week ago. Then on Monday, Watson raised these concerns with Baroness Ashton, and requested her to bring it up with the Georgian government and get from them ‘an explanation and a guarantee that fundamental principles of political freedom and democracy will be followed’, according to the press release. Catherine Ashton visited Georgia on November ...

News

Opposition politician’s son’s beaten

by | December 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - An oppposition parliamentarian says the physical attack against his son was politically motivated. Giorgi Tsagareishvili, representive of the Free Democrats and head of the parliamentary faction Unity for Justice, told DFWatch that his 19 year old son, Zurab, was attacked on the street by strangers and beaten. The attack took place late at night near the entrance to their home on Kavsadze Street in the Vake district of Tbilisi. According to him, at around 0:30 am, four or five strangers attacked his son as he was returning home. The neighbors heard the noise and came out to see what was going on, and then the attackers disappeared. “We called for the police and an ambulance. My son was transferred to the Republican Hospital, where he was diagnosed with brain concussion. He has injuries in the face. At around 6 am we returned home,” Tsagareishvili said. He says the attack is connected to his political activity. Tsagareishvili has long been a forceful oppositional voice in parliament and raised questions about a number of controversial issues. He sits in the leadership of the Free Democrats Party, ...

In brief, News

Warns of Russian border raid

by | December 14, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian parliamentarian warns that a statement from Russia's chief security adviser could signal Russian military action of the kind that took place in 2002. Giorgi Targamadze, representative of the parliamentary opposition and a member of parliament’s Trust Group, calls for the government to pay serious attention to accusations made by the Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev that terrorists are being trained in Georgia. Patrushev said in an interview with the newspaper “Argumenti i Fakti” that persons are trained on Georgian territory to carry out terrorist acts in Russia. Giorgi Targamadze claims that the same kind of statement was made by Patrushev almost a decade ago, and it was followed by bombing of Georgian villages in the Pankisi Gorge, a part Georgia bordering on Chechnya with a historic Chechen population. Following the two Chechen wars, thousands of refugees settled there, and it is regularly mentioned by Russian security officials claiming that it is a base for terrorists operating in North Caucasus. In 2002, there were reports of 40-minute raid by Russian military jets that dropped bombs over several villages in Pankisi causing ...

In brief, News

Strong opposition bloc being formed in Georgia

by | December 14, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili is to form an election bloc and aims at running in next year’s parliamentary election in Georgia. His allies are Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats, and Davit Usupashvili, leader of the Republican party, Ivanishvili’s press office told Dfwatch. Several polls indicate that if the bloc survives until next October and is allowed to stand for election, it will be the first time in the country’s history that people have had the choice between two viable political alternatives. According to Ivanishvili’s press service, the leaders have agreed that the coalition will be set up after Ivanishvili has managed to set up his own political party. This could take some time, since he is currently without a Georgian citizenship, which technically makes it illegal for him to engage in political activities. A court case is underway, and Ivanishvili is also pursuing other ways of reclaiming his citizenship, so he can establish a political party. It is likely that the three will include other opposition groups later on as part of their line-up of candidates for parliament. According ...

News

Demands censorship accusation retracted

by | December 14, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian weekly magazine wants Transparency International to retract parts of a report which criticizes it for being too cozy with the government. TI said Tuesday that the media in Georgia are subject to indirect censorship through control over the advertisement sector. Control is exerted by a network of friends headed by the former defense minister Davit Kezerashvili, who was in charge of Georgia’s military forces during the war with Russia in 2008. This network effectively controls most of the ads in radio, TV and print media, favoring those that are least independent. Illustrating how he and the government extend their influence, TI pointed out that the magazine Tabula is able to sell far more advertisements than another similar magazine called Liberali, the difference being that Tabula is on friendly terms with authorities, while Liberali has a more independent editorial line. Owner and editor in-chief of Tabula is Tamara Chergoleishvili, wife of one of president Mikheil Saakashvili’s closest allies, Giga Bokeria, who current serves as secretary of the country’s National Security Council. Today, Tabula sent out a statement demanding that Transparency International ...

In brief, News

Journalist claims Ivanishvili censored her

by | December 14, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A journalist working for the Georgian online television Presage.tv has left her job, saying businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili pressured her to write laudatory stories about him. “I left the Pressatv.ge, which Misha [President Mikheil Saakashvili] couldn’t destroy but Bidzina [Ivanishvili] has put it in his pocket,” Rusudan Mumladze wrote on her Facebook page yesterday. “When you are told that we are given the financing we had been dreaming of, and this is not the time for objectivity, and it doesn’t fit to us to write anything but laudation about this person, what can a journalist do?” she writes, noting that this is happening on the anniversary of pressage.tv freeing itself from the president’s control. “Mr. Bidzina, do you think that it was my Georgian Dream, the Journalist’s dream?” she appeals to Mr Ivanishvili. She says that she has been a journalist for a long time, and no one has ever dared ‘cut down’ her material. “That’s how the money-friendship is destroyed. I don’t need the Georgian Dream. Misha has already made such a dream come true.” Mumladze also works at the independent media unity ...

News

How Georgia’s media is censored

by | December 14, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian media is at the mercy of a murky network of friends that extends into both government and the private sector, used for exerting political influence over what is being reported. This monopoly is getting worse, as it is about to grab the newspaper sector too, which has been the only real free media in the country until now. These are the main findings of a new study carried out by Transparency International Georgia (TI) about the Georgian advertising market. It concludes that there is a marked lack of competition in the sector. It mostly revolves around a small network of friends, relatives and business partners of advertisement czar Davit Kezerashvili, the former Defense Minister who led the army into the unsuccessful war against Russia in 2008. TI found that just a handful of companies are in control of almost the entire advertising sector in the country. ‘Especially we have a new monopoly that immerged earlier this year – General Media, which manages about 70% of all advertising segments in Georgia. They have a de facto monopoly on all advertising slots on ...

In brief, News

Criticizes prisoner mistreatment

by | December 13, 2011

Georgia’s ombudsman has published a new report which lays out the situation in the country’s detention centers, saying the situation remains problematic. The report was prepared by a team working under the ombudsmann’s office, tasked with carrying out Georgia’s obligations under a United Nations convention to monitor the situation in all detention facilities in order to prevent torture or degrading treatment. The group also inspected conditions for prisoners in pretrial detenion. Special attention was paid to improper or insufficient medical treatment. Georgia has lately seen a number of prison deaths due to turberculosis. In their report the monitoring group analyzes the reasons for and trends in the deaths among prisoners in the first six months of 2011. On the basis of its findings, it also makes recommendations within each issues to the Georgian government, the Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assisstance, the Department of Corrections, the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General Office. It also includes an appeal to the Georgian parliament. Ombudsman Giorgi Tugushi presented the report at a press conference Tuesday which was attended by the foreign diplomats, international and local organizations ...

In brief, News

Joint statement regarding the situation in Russia

by | December 13, 2011

The Foreign Relations Committee and the Diaspora and Caucasus Issues Committee of Georgia’s parliament has made a joint statement regarding the situation in Russia. DFWatch here publishes the statement unchanged.   Joint Statement of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Diaspora and Caucasus Issues Committee of the Parliament of Georgia on the Situation in Russia Whereas, the elections of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament – Duma - held on December 4, 2011 were assessed by international observers as marred with serious violations, including numerous instances of clear fraud; Whereas, pressure on media and arrests of civil society representatives, in breach of international electoral standards and restriction of freedom of choice of Russian citizens occurred; Whereas, public outcry against the widespread fraud aligned with the very concept of the so-called "managed democracy” demonstrates that the Russian government does not see the futility of attempts to reverse the course of history; Whereas, the first democratic protest of such scale coincides with the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the "evil empire” – the Soviet Union, when captive nations, including Georgia, broke free from decades of totalitarian ...

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