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 ...

News

Objections ignored about party financing

by | December 13, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Another surprise bill about election reform made its way to parliament Monday, making it clear that the government intends to ignore objections from a broad section of society when it comes to party financing. Legal persons in Georgia will be prohibited from financing political parties. Only banks will be able to offer parties credit limited upwards to 100 000 Georgian lari. The limit for donations from individuals will be doubled to 60 000 lari in total, and party membership fee can be maximum 1 200 lari. The annual financing of a party shouldn’t be more than 0.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) including public funding. This means that a political party’s financing cannot exceed 53 million lari for next year. Any amount above that limit must be transferred to the state. Party financing must be done through electronic transfers. Parties and legal persons will be prohibited from giving money, presents and other material values, whilst it is also clear that the monitoring of party party will be conducted by the Chamber of Control, instead of the Central Election Commission ...

News

Claims judge is partial

by | December 13, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Lawyers representing a Georgian businessman and his wife twice asked the judge to be taken off a case which could decide the country's future because they think the judge is partial in favor of the defendant. Their request was overruled. Judge Shota Getsadze Monday reviewed the appeal of lawyers representing Bidzina Ivanishvili and Ekaterine Khvedelidze about having declared unlawful a presidential decree which revoked their Georgian citizenship. The court hearing began at 2 pm and lasted for four hours. Because the room was too small, only about 25 people were able to attend the session, while some people, including journalists, were unable to enter. At the beginning of the session the plaintiffs made several motions, the first asking the judge to be taken off the case. Their argument was something that happened at the preparatory meeting of Monday’s session, where the judge expressed his ‘inner belief’ about the defendants. The plaintiffs requested to see a document which was the grounds for the Civil Registry to start the process of revoking the citizenship of Ivanishvili and his wife. But the representatives of the ...

News

Journalists get compensation for May 26 injuries

by | December 13, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s Interior Ministry will pay compensation to journalists who went to court for injuries they suffered when police dispersed a peaceful demonstration on May 26 this year. Today Tbilisi City Court reviewed the appeal of the case of journalists from different Georgian media units who asked for compensation for injures to themselves and their equipment that night. One of the complainants, Tazo Kupreishvili, who is a journalist in the online newspaper Netgazeti, says that the Interior Ministry expressed readiness to fully compensate health and material damage they suffered on May 26. Two journalists from Netgazeti will be compensated for their health expenses and the other two for lost equipment. Health compensation will also be offered journalist from Guria News, while Media Palitra will be paid for a lost flip-camera. But the Interior Ministry will not fully compensate all the damage the complainants cited. The value of the material damage presented to the court is nearly 5 000 Georgian lari. But the Interior Ministry refused to fully compensate the damage because of lack of evidence in the remaining instances. A peaceful anti-government rally ...

News

Justice, hope, unity

by | December 12, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili says the time has come for ‘real Euro-Atlantic integration and not an imitation of the way to Europe.’ The statement came at Sunday’s launch party in the Tbilisi Concert Hall for the new movement called Georgian Dream. At his first press conference November 1 Ivanishvili touched on the subject of how to integrate Georgia closer with NATO, and his comments then have later been picked up by the government, which said that the public hasn’t been told what his position is regarding this issue, which in Georgia often is referred to as “Euro-Atlantic integration”. At Sunday’s launch party Ivanishvili talked about what be the country’s goals should be; one of them being exactly Euro-Atlantic integration and what to do in order to achieve results in that process. The Georgian president revoked Bidzina Ivanishvili’s citizenship shortly after he had said he wanted to go to politics. According to Georgian legislation, someone who isn’t a Georgian citizen can’t take part in political activities nor finance any political process. However, a non-citizen is allowed to get involved in what is ...

News

Late PM’s brother: Ivanishvili gives us new hope

by | December 12, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The brother and widow of one of Georgia’s most popular politicians in the early 2000s were both planning to go to Bidzina Ivanishvili’s launch party for the Georgian Dream movement Sunday. “I will go to the launch party as a citizen who is worried about current events in the country. I am pleased that Bidzina Ivanishvil has appeared in Georgian politics. It brings hope that things can be changed, and that’s very important,” Goga Zhvania says. He is brother of the late Zurab Zhvania, one of the three leaders behind Georgia’s rose revolution, who died in 2005 under mysterious circumstances. Since then, the government has distanced itself from the family and friends of the late PM. December 9, when a new website was launched to celebrate what would have been Zurab Zhvania’s 48 birthday, the late PM’s widow says none of the government representatives and former colleagues of Zhvania she invited showed up. “The fact that it’s hard for them to appear even for such a neutral topic as Zurab Zhvania’s online archive is an indication of a worsened political situation ...

News

Tskhinvali protest continues

by | December 11, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The opposition in South Ossetia won't call off their demonstration on the main square, because they claim the leadership didn't honor an agreement from Friday night. Saturday the man who has lead the region for the last ten years, Eduard Kokoity, announced his resignation as promised, but at the same time made it clear that he did not see his leaving as a sign of defeat. “We have defeated the Orange Revolution. South Ossetia will always be with Russia, and we will not allow our gratitude to Russia to be stained for political ambitions, we gave the oath in 1774 when we joined great Russia," Kokoity told the region's popular assembly. The former leader also said that 'no political ambitions are worth spilling blood for'. It seemed to be the end of the crisis, but Sunday news reports indicated that protests will continue. The problem for opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva is that three other officials who were to leave alongside Kokoity haven't actually left. One of them, the deputy attorney general, just switched to another position as head of the Supreme Court, ...

News

New opposition leader launches movement

by | December 11, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Over a thousand people enjoyed a sunny Tbilisi today outside the old Philharmonic, where a new opposition movement is being launched at 3 pm by the businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili. Interpressnews reports that many well-known faces have been spotted in the masses of people registering to be let into the hall. Among them are the Ukrainian football player Andriy Shevchenko, who was invited by his Georgian colleague, Kakha Kaladze, who is also investor and has kept a high public profile for years. Also seen were the theatre directors Revaz Esadze and Robert Sturua, writer Revaz Cheishvili, late prime minister Zurab Zhvania's widow Nino Kadagidze, actor Givi Berikashvili, poet Chansug Charkviani, the leading figure in another oppositional movement, People's Assembly, Nona Gaprindashvili, former Defense Minister David Tevzadze, singers Lisa Bagrationi, Nato Metonidze and Maya Jabua Many non-governmental organizations and political parties are also showing up in large numbers today, including the "Free Democrats" and the "Republicans", the two political parties with which Ivinashvili has formal relations. The event opened with a performance by Ivanishvili's rapper son, Bera. Later Bidzina Ivanishvili himself took the stage ...

In brief, News

Police and defense get a fifth of 2012 budget

by | December 10, 2011

Defense and police get 19 % of the total state budget next year. This represents a quarter of direct appropriations to state bodies. Revenues are expected to be 6 839 399 400 Georgian lari, while expences are calculated to be 6 528 243 300 lari. Revenue from taxes is given as 6 300 000 000, grants 239 399 400 and other income  300 000 000 GEL. Salaries make up 1 133 145 500 of the expenses; subsidies 210 009 100; grants given by the state 1 173 748 900; goods and services 916 537 100; social security 1 691 160 900 lari. Budget revenues are 8 040 430 000 and charges 7 940 430 000. Funding for various state agencies are as follows, with percentage of direct appropriations (not of total expenditure):   Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs 1 772 081 100 34.5 % Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure 968 350 100 18.8 % Ministry of Defense 675 000 000 13.1 % Ministry of Internal Affairs 595 000 000 11.6 % Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources 290 337 600 5.6 % Ministry of Economic Development 172 343 700 3.4 % Ministry of Corrections and Legal Assistance 120 000 000 2.3 % Ministry of Agriculture 119 998 200 2.3 % Ministry of Finance 111 732 800 2.2 % Ministry of Justice 77 000 000 1.5 ...

News

Rules drawn up for 2012 election

by | December 10, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Gradually the ground rules for next year’s election are being laid as parliament has begun a new round of discussion about election reform. It comes earlier than expected, because recommendations from the Council of Europe (CoE) came sooner than the December 17 deadline, in the form of a working draft published on the Venice Commission’s webpage. Several changes seem set to go through. One is that the Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) will have to publish the electoral roll before the elections. There is also agreement about letting prisoners who are serving time for lesser crimes participate in the elections. Independent candidates will be allowed to compete. And companies which the government has a share in can finance political parties, as long as the share is less than 50 %. These are the issues, on which the government is planning to follow the advice of the Venice Commission. But there are other important issues on which it refuses to go along with the recommendations. One of the most significant issues in which the government is firmly against following the CoE’s advise ...

In brief, News

South Ossetian leader resigns

by | December 10, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity today resigned as part of a deal with the opposition which also allows its leader to run in the breakaway republic's rescheduled election in March. Eduard Kokoity, the de facto president of Georgia’s breakaway republic South Ossetia, today announced his resignation . Acting president will be the current Prime Minister, Vadim Brovtsev until a rescheduled election on March 25. The late night deal seems to have avoided a clash as opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva called off her unofficial inauguration planned for today, Saturday. Kokoity's departure comes as a result of consultations with the region’s opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva as way to release some of the tension after the election result was annulled. Dzhioyeva is claiming victory in the election and started mobilizing supporters in front of the so-called government building ten days ago. When Kokoity's resignation has been confirmed, they are to end their demonstration. Another important development is that Dzhioyeva will be allowed to take part in the new election in March. Shortly after annulling the results of the elections, the Supreme Court prohibited Dzhioyeva ...

In brief, News

Warns against new definition of ‘refugee’

by | December 9, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The pressure group Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) warns that a new, narrower definition of what it means to be a refugee could expose people to danger. GYLA is appealing to parliament regarding a new bill initiated by the government which makes changes to the law about Internally Displaced Persons – Refugees, saying that the changes may harm the rights of the persons, to which the law applies. According to the bill, ‘a person will be considered internally displaced persons from the occupied territories of Georgia [if he or she is a] Georgian citizen or non-citizen person permanently living in the country, who was forced to leave the permanent living, due to the endanger to his, his family member’s life, health, liberty, by the foreign country occupation, aggression and massive human rights violation.’ GYLA’s appeal says that the new definition decreases the number of persons, to which the law applies. “It is limited to the internally displaced persons from the occupied territories, while after the war in 2008 many people were forced to leave their homes from non-occupied places - villages ...

News

Knife attack as negotiations are stalled

by | December 9, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Demonstrations are continuing on Tskhinvali’s main square, as the negotiations are stalled. Yesterday evening, a Russian news agency reported that one official was stabbed with a knife during a meeting on the square. The injured, defense employee Soslan Gabuev, received a wound to his chest and was taken to the hospital. The former so-called presidential candidate in Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia, Alla Dzhioyeva confirmed that the attack had happened, but says that it was another provocation against the opposition. Meeting with journalists to sum up the talks with South Ossetian authorities she said that she’s ready to become acting president of South Ossetia till the so-called presidential elections on March 25. Dzhioyeva said the opposition put forth several proposals for how to solve the crisis, but they were not accepted. She says there was no discussion about whether current de-facto president Eduard Kokoity should resign. „As an interim measures we are suggested that the General Prosecutor resigns, “ Russian media quotes her saying. She said among the measures suggested by her group was that Eduard Kokoity should transfer government to her ...

News

End of one party dominance

by | December 9, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgians are discussing how to read the first polls done after a popular businessman decided to join politics. The polls differ drastically, which has lead many to distrust the results. According to one of them, 26.1% of the Georgian population want the newcomer Bidzina Ivanishvili as Prime Minister from 2013. 24.2% of the population would like the current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to take the post. Following constitutional amendments implemented last year, the power of the Prime Minister in Georgia is increased, while presidential powers have been reduced. Since the Georgian Constitution sets a two term limit for a president to serve, there is an expectation that Saakashvili may want to remain as a Prime Minister when his second term expires in early 2013. But according to the survey conducted by Institute of Social Studies and Analysis (ISSA), more people would prefer if someone else became Prime Minister. ISSA, which is a quite authoritative organization in Georgia, conducted the survey for Georgian Development Research Institute. This organization was set up with the help of a donation from Bidzina Ivansihvili in early November. ...

In brief, News

Shooting in Tskhinvali

by | December 9, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Six cars and a bus were shot at in Tskhinvali last night, according to the news agency Pirveli. The cars were on the capital's central square, where supporters of presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva have been holding out since November 30 to claim victory in the election, which was annulled the previous day. The bus was in a residential area and had all its windows broken by gunfire.

In brief, News

Decisive citizenship case postponed

by | December 8, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A court case which could decide the future of Georgia has been postponed due to a judge’s illness. Georgian billionaire and opposition politician Bidzina Ivanishvili was told Thursday that his and his wife’s appeal about their revoked citizenship has been postponed until December 12, because the judge is ill. The final ruling in the case may decide whether one of the country most popular politicians will be allowed to run in next year’s election. Tbilisi City Court held a preparatory session in the case on December 5 at which the detailed review of the case was rescheduled for today. Ivanishvili’s lawyers are asking for presidential decree number 602 to be declared invalid. The decree was issued by president Mikheil Saakashvili on October 11, 2011, four days after Ivanishvili surprisingly had announced he would enter politics, set up a new political party and claim power as prime minister after the election for parliament in 2012. Ivanishvili argues that Saakashvili acted unlawfully when revoking his and his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze’s Georgian citizenship. If a person doesn’t have Georgian citizenship, according to the Georgian legisltation, he is ...

News

Solution closer in Tskhinvali stand-off

by | December 8, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Vice speaker of parliament in Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia says the current president Eduard Kokoity must resign and the region should be headed by the so-called Prime Minister Vadim Brovtsev. “As the term of president Kokoity has expired, he can no longer perform his duties as president. He should resign, and the powers of the President should temporarily move to the Prime Minister of South Ossetia Vadim Brovtsev,” Russian media is quoting Yuri Dzitstsoyty as saying. “He in particular, as a person not involved in the conflict, can prepare the necessary conditions for a new election March 25." Alla Dzhioyeva, the presidential candidate who was heading for victory in the election before it was annulled, and has been holding out on a square with her supporters, is positive to this move, which may defuse some of the tension. So-called presidential elections were held in the Tskhinvali region on November 27. This was the second round, in which Alla Jiovea, opposition candidate, and Anatoly Bibilov, assumed Kremlin favorite, faced off against each other. The opposition representative clearly got most votes and would ...

News

Kidney operated prisoner beaten, but in “satisfactory condition”

by | December 8, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The prison ministry in Georgia says about a prisoner with kidney problems who was beaten before and after his operation, that ‘the patient's health condition is satisfactory’. In a rare exception, the ministry Wednesday publicly made comments to a case about suspected prisoner abuse. The statement was their first comment about the case which began more than a week ago. It started when lawyer Kakhaber Mumladze November 29 appealed for help on behalf of his client, prisoner Kakhaber Baratashvili, to the Ombudsman’s office and Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA). According to Mumladze, his client has been subjected to threats and physical attacks while in custody. Late night on November 27 the prisoner was transferred to a medical facility because of kidney problems. Both GYLA and the Ombudsman say that they were informed that in the evening of November 28 Baratashvili had unbearable pain and called for a doctor. “The detainee says that no one came for a half hour. Because of the unbearable pain he was forced to knock on the cell door. A few employees entered his cell and threw ...

News

Poll: Georgian businessman could win

by | December 8, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgians might elect political newcomer Bidzina Ivanishvili if given the option, but the first polls after he launched his campaign differ significantly. Two polls disagree over newcomer Bidzina Ivanishvili's chances in the presidential competition. One shows him second, another shows he will trounce the ruling party's most likely candidate 32 to 13 per cent. But both polls place the ruling National Movement party slightly ahead of newcomer Bidzina Ivanishvili in the race to fill the seats in the new parliament in less than a year. One of them was done by Gallup and IPM for the International Republican Institute (IRI) and shows that president Mikheil Saakashvili’s National Movement has the most support and that their candidate for president would win, no matter who gets nominated. Another poll, done by the Institute of Social Studies and Analysis (ISSA), shows Ivanishvili winning decisively against the most likely ruling party candidate for next president, Gigi Ugulava. It also indicates that Georgians have a generally more favorable impression of Ivanishvili's movement than the ruling party, when scoring political parties along a positive and negative scale. A ...

News

‘Georgia’s authorities plotting to bankrupt opposition bank’

by | December 8, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - An opposition parliamentarian claims that the government of Georgia is involved in a scheme to force a billionaire businessman and political newcomer's bank into bankrupcy. The scheme, as Giorgi Tsagareishvili describes it, involves a combination of legislative changes and a large loan from the businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili's Cartu Bank made with security in real estate. Key to the plot, according to Tsagareishvili, is the mother of the country's police chief, who is formally responsible for the loan, the Free Democrats representative said in parliament Wednesday. He said it is nothing more than a fraudulent scheme, which the government is part of. Specifically, Laura Ghachava, the mother of the head of the criminal police, has received several million lari in credit from Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank. To get the credit there was an investment made in real estate at expensive locations around Tbilisi. Tsagareishvili says that a law recently adopted by parliament gives the government an opportunity to appropriate the pledge itself, which will force the bank into bankruptcy. Before the changes were adopted, if a person was unable to manage the loan, ...

In brief, News

Abkhazia to claim customs tax on Georgian goods

by | December 7, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Alexander Ankvab, the newly elected leader of Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia, says that it’s necessary to establish customs control on the Abkhaz side of the border with Georgia, Russian news agencies report. “It's no secret that in the stores and markets a lot of fruits and vegetables and consumer goods are entering illegally via the Abkhazian-Georgian border, and the state has no income from this trade,” he is quoted saying at a press conference in the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi. Customs check will be put in place on the so-called border in the near future, he added. Alexander Ankvab was elected president of Abkhazia in August 2011.  

In brief, News

‘No revolution’: South Ossetian candidate

by | December 7, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Alla Dzhioyeva, the candidate who apparantly won the so-called presidential elections in Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia, said today that she does not yet intend to seek political asylum. The comment came after Russian diplomats pointed out that her statement about seeking political asytlum in Russia is meaningless as she is a citizen of Russia. Dzhioyeva says that the media quoted her incorrectly. “I again appealed to the president and prime minister of Russia to recognize the results of the elections in the country held on November 27,” Dzhioyeva told the Russian news agency Ria Novosti. “And I said only as a last resort to consider the possibility of requesting political asylum from Russian authorities. And just in case if I stay alive,” she said. Dzhioyeva competed in the so-called presidential elections in Tskhinvali against Anatoly Bibilov, the Kremlin favorite. Dzhioyeva, regarded as an opposition representative, beat him by a wide marign and would have become the winner, if not the Supreme Court on November 30 had annulled the results of the elections and appointed new early elections for March 25, 2012. Dzhioyeva’s ...

News

Tempers flare over number of MPs

by | December 6, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Two opposition blocs exchanged obscenities in parliament Tuesday over what to do about a controversial bill to increase the number of members of parliament (MPs). Georgia’s parliamentary majority is ready to reconsider the decision to increasing the number of MPs. This was decided Tuesday after a verbal confrontation with the opposition in parliament. The debate saw heated exchange between Christian Democrat faction leader Levan Vepkhvadze and Tamaz Diasamidze, representative of the faction Unity for Justice. The Christian Democrats are among the signatories of an agreement between the government and part of the opposition in July, 2011, regarding electoral reform. Signing on to this meant that they agreed on a number of issues about how to change the Electoral Code. But these changes are unacceptable to the rest of the opposition and a number of non-governmental organizations. The disputed issues include increasing the number of MPs. Because it is the constitution which sets the number of MPs, it is necessary to implement constitutional amendments in order to enforce the changes. An appropriate bill is already introduced in parliament with the required MP signatories. According ...

News

Shelling in Tskhinvali

by | December 6, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tuesday the house of the de facto Prosecutor General of South Ossetia was shelled, as the entire opposition movement is considering to ask for political asylum in Russia. Ria Novosti reported the shelling. There are no reports of injuries. Both South Ossetian authorities and opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva denies responsibility and appeal for a continuation of negotiations about how to proceed in a peaceful way in the delicate situation that has developed after the election result was annulled one week ago. Dzhioyeva’s appeal to the so-called Supreme Court was dismissed Tuesday, Russian media report. She had asked the court to reconsider its decision to cancel the results of the presidential elections. After the Supreme Court’s decision was announced, Dzhioyeva asked to convene an emergency meeting of the state council to discuss the possibility to ask Russia for political asylum. Dzhioyeva came to the Supreme Court to withdraw her initial complaint about the court's decision to cancel the election results and make a new, but she was not allowed to enter the building. Ria Novosti reports that the court is now reviewing ...

News

Think twice, advises CoE about Ivanishvili

by | December 5, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Concil of Europe's special commission about election reform has recommended that Georgia lets Bidzina Ivanishvili run in the elections even without a citizenship in the country. The Venice commission recommends that the Georgian government gives people not having Georgian citizenship an opportunity to get involved in election campaigns. Although this recommendation is included in the Venice Commission's report about Georgia's last draft election law, the government has only been mentioning the things that the Venice Commission agrees with it about, such as that they welcome the prohibition on legal entities financing political parties. Both issues came to the public’s attention after billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili had his citzenship revoked on October 11. If he can’t get it back he won't be able to legally participate in the upcoming elections, neither will he be able to finance political parties, because Georgian legislation prohibits a non-Georgian citizen from doing this. But the current law allows non-citizens to finance political movements via legal entities such as private companies or organizations. However, the government recently decided to close this opportunity for Ivanishvili as well by ...

News

-Orange revolution will fail in Tskhinvali

by | December 5, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The de facto president of Georgia’s breakaway republic South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, says what is currently taking place in the region now is an orange revolution, Russian media report. The de facto leader made reference to a reform movement in Ukraine which lead to a peaceful transition of power in 2004, often called the orange revolution. "What is happening today is a form of ‘orange revolution’, and it will not work. Things will be like the prosecutor and the people of South Ossetia decide," he said, adding that he doesn’t cling to power but is ready to transfer government power in accordance with the constitution. The situation in the Tskhinvali region got difficult after the so-called Supreme Court annulled the results of the so-called presidential elections on November 29. The apparent winner was Alla Dzhioyeva, former Education Minister in the region and opposition candidate. Her opponent was Anatoly Bibilov, openly considered a Kremlin favorite. Dzhioyeva supporters began rallying in front of the so-called government building on the main square in Tskhinvali and are still holding out. They demand that the Supreme ...

News

Building a city from scratch

by | December 5, 2011

TBILSI, DFWatch - Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili wants to build a brand new city on the Black Sea shore near the breakaway region Abkhazia. Saakashvili made this statement in the town of Zugdidi on December 4, close to the border with Abkhazia. “We have decided to establish a great city between Anaklia and Kulev which will be called Lazika,” Saakashvili said. He estimates that minimum half a million people will be living in this city in ten years’ time. “This will be the second biggest city after the capital Tbilisi. It will be the main trade center in western Georgia and the main center for Georgia on the Black Sea,” the president said. According to official statistics, the population of this region is more than half a million. Saakashvili claims that large-scale works will begin next year and new sea port will be built next to Anaklia, a newly built tourist resort. “We will employ several thousands of people in the construction works of this new city,” Saakashvili says. Negotiations are already started with several large investors in Asia and Europe to finance the ambitious project, the president ...

In brief, News

Improved corruption ranking

by | December 4, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - According to the latest ranking from Transparency International, the perceived level of corruption in Georgia has improved since last year. Georgia gets 4.1 points out of ten and receives the 64th place among 183 countries on the ranking list called Corruption Perception Index, which is published by Transparency International. 0 points mean highly corrupt; 10 – not corrupt. Last year Georgia got 3.8 points and 68th place, which means that according to Transparency International's survey, the situation in Georgia has improved. Transparency International Georgia calls for the Georgian government to strengthen the role of parliament to develop a balanced system of governance; also to create a competitive environment ahead of the election in 2012 and equal circumstances for the parties; continue the court reform to create an independent and transparent court system and that the government must not intervene in the activities of the media. European countries like Croatia, Slovakia, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria are placed after Georgia on the 2011 edition of the Corruption Perception index. This year’s index for Georgia was based on seven surveys, from including Asian Development Bank, ...

In brief, News

Ossetian opposition to appeal to Supreme Court

by | December 4, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Supreme Court in Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia will Monday decide when to hear the case of Alla Dzhioyeva's supporters, according Atsamaz Bichenov, chairman of the Supreme Court, who is quoted in Russian media. Dzhioyeva supporters are asking the court to recognize Dzhioyeva’s victory in the so-called presidential elections on November 27. Russian news agency Ria Novosti reports that the so-called Prosecutor General of South Ossetia will give a legal assessment of illegal actions of supporters of Jioev, according to Eldar Kokoev, the so-called Deputy Attorney General. “Those actions that have taken place are of course crimes, but we must understand that there is a political will which sometimes trumps the requirements of the law,” he says. He adds that the Prosecutor General awaits the decision of the so-called Supreme Court of South Ossetia. On Tuesday the so-called Supreme Court annulled the results of the so-called presidential results. The date of the next early elections was scheduled for March 25, 2012. The second round of the so-called elections saw a match between Alla Dzhioyeva, former minister of education, and Anatoly Bibilov, head ...

In brief, News

Georgia had real veto power

by | December 3, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria, who was involved in the Swiss meditated talks between Russia and Georgia regarding Russia’s WTO membership, claims that Georgia’s Western partners never considered giving Russia WTO membership without Georgia agreeing. He said this December 2 at a session in the Georgian parliament between three committees; the foreign relations, Europe integration and diaspora relations committees. Bokeria presented details of the negotiations together with Sergi Kapanadze, Deputy Foreign Minister. “Some speculation has taken place about this topic; including from [Russia’s foreign minister] Sergey Lavrov. The principle position of our partner countries is that there should be a consensus and not to create some other precedent,” Bokeria added.  

In brief, News

Georgia is a partner of ‘the civilized world’

by | December 3, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - According to National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria ‘Georgia appeared as sensible and flexible partner of the civilized world’ during WTO current negotiations. He made this statement on December 2 on the united session of the foreign relations, Europe integration and diaspora relations committees in parliament. According to him, Russia’s WTO membership will bring positive results for the EU and the United States, and those are Georgia’s main trading partners in the whole civilized world in economic regard. ‘Georgia will benefit in this way too,’ Bokeria says. According to him, during the negotiations the main thing was that Russia was precented from presenting Georgia as troublemaker and a party which doesn’t seek solutions and creates problems for the EU and other partners. Bokeria says effective diplomatic efforts were important to secure that the Russian Federation agreed to having international monitoring of the border, which was unacceptable to them before. “This was a key moment and it caused a strange period of hesitation for our northern neighbor,” Bokeria claimed and added that as a result of this process Georgia got what has been ...

In brief, News

Switzerland will establish border monitoring

by | December 3, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A new border monitoring force between Georgia and Russia will be put together by Switzerland. Sergi Kapanadze, Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, saidthis in the Georgian parliament Friday at the initiative of himself and National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria. Kapanadze has been involved in the Swiss meditated negotiations between Russia and Georgia regarding Russia’s WTO membership. Three corridors will be set up to monitor the movement of goods between the two countries, which were at war with eachother in 2008: Roki-Gori; Psou-Zugdidi and Larsi. At these crossing points, movement of goods will be controlled by a company, which will be chosen by Switzerland. Kapanadze says Switzerland has shown Georgian authorities a list of suggested companies, to which Georgia will express its position and finally the monitoring company will be selected as well as given the formal mandate by a sole Swiss decision. The agreement further entails that both Russia and Georgia are prohibited from intervening in this company’s activity by way of domestic legislation. As for the company’s service compensation, Kapanadze explains that it will be provided by a special trust fund, which ...

In brief, News

Tbilisi TV producer leaves

by | December 3, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Mamuka Glonti, producer in chief and co-founder Maestro TV, has left his post. He announced this on his Facebook page Saturday. Glonti told Interpressnews that they have created  a negative attitude towards him, and he is concerned that this may negatively affect  Maestro's  level of trust. In light of this he believes himself unfit to continue making decisions on behalf of the station. “I publically announce that I leave the post in Maestro to become just an adviser, because I can’t get rid of the responsibilities in such a difficult situation,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Now, when I’m free of being Erosi’s ‘hostage’ I have been browsing Facebook and found out that part of society thinks badly of me, some doubt in me. To my detriment I was at the center of such events and I’m not perceived as a part of the media anymore and I’m sorry about this.” Glonti writes. He says that up till now he was general producer at Maestro. He thinks that he will harm his colleagues in the television by him being there ...

News

Georgia pardons Israeli businessmen following deal over pipelines

by | December 3, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has concluded an advantageous deal with two Israeli businessmen. Simultaneously president Saakashvili pardons Roni Fuchs and Zeev Frenkel, claiming there is no connection with the deal. Following the deal, Georgia will pay only 1/3 of an old claim dating back to the 1990s, thus sparing the state of a 70 million US dollar loss. President Mikheil Saakashvili’s press spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze denies that there is a connection between the pardon and the end of arbitration. According to Manjdaladze, the president made the decision to pardon the Israeli businessmen on the basis of a request from the Israeli government and personally from Israel’s president, in addition to humanitarian reasons. “This decision was also from a humanitarian point of view, considering the age of the arrested, and what their health condition is,” Manjgaladze announced at a press conference December 2. Fuchs and Frenkel were arrested in October 2010 on charges of having offered a bribe to the Georgian Deputy Finance Minister. The court sentenced Fuchs to six and a half years and to Frenkel seven years in jail. According to the Georgian government, the ...

In brief, News

‘Clan rivalry’ behind unrest in Tskhinvali

by | December 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria claims that there is a confrontation between clans in so-called South Ossetia to become the Kremlin favorite. He said this to journalists in parliament Friday, commenting current events in Tskhinvali region. Bokeria said that everybody knows Georgia’s and the international community’s position that any elections can’t be legitimate in Tskhinvali under the current conditions, when there has been ethnic cleansing and people living there have been thrown out of the region by force, and where there is a Russian-occupied regime in full control. The security secretary further added that it is clear that a confrontation among two clans is developing about gaining Moscow’s support. Despite this fact, he thinks that it needs more attention. “This fact displays what type of corruption and chaos there is everywhere the Russian Federation intervenes and what kind of despair there is in the population regarding the current situation,” Bokeria remarks.  

In brief, News

Ivanishvili to support the press

by | December 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili promises to support and help Georgian print media. Lasha Tugushi, editor in-chief of the daily Rezonansi, said this after a meeting with the businessman Friday. Ivanishvili decided to meet with leaders of print media regarding Tbilisi City Hall’s decision, which will involve removing some newspaper kiosk from the capital. City Hall announced the tender within the framework of a project called ‘1000 Booths’. The tender is mostly announced for the places where there have already been newspaper kiosks for years. Removal of booths has already begun. Subscriptions are not a viable distribution system in Georgia. Therefore, the only realistic way to get the papers out to readers is street sale. Therefore, representatives of print media see the City Hall’s plan as an attempt to destroy the free media. In Georgia press is considered free, while the national TV networks are government-controlled. There are a few small cable channels, but they are unable to reach the whole country. Georgian Press Association, different media units, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and political parties protest against City Hall’s decision, and have brought it up in the ...

In brief, News

Which ranking to choose?

by | December 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Prime Minister Nika Gilauri recently claimed that Georgia is number one tourism country in the South Caucasus region. But in a ranking of quality of life it gets 214th place, and in a personal safety ranking 215th. Mercer, the world's largest human resources consulting firm, has published its 2011 Quality of Living Worldwide City Rankings. 221 cities are listed. Tbilisi got the last place among Eastern European cities in terms of the both quality of life and personal safety. According to the survey, living conditions in Tbilisi are worse than in Baku (195) and Yerevan (173). Moscow is number 163. Living conditions are evaluated by ten categories, including economic, political and social environment, health, education, public services, natural environment and consumer goods. The countries are compared to each other according to 39 factors within these categories. Vienna is on the top of the list, while Baghdad is at the bottom. Tbilisi also scored low last year, when it ended up on 217th place, followed by Khartoum (Sudan), N’Djamena (Chad), Bangui (Central African Republic) and Baghdad (Iraq). “Georgia is the main tourist country in ...

In brief, News

South Ossetian opposition to boycott Russian Duma election

by | December 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Part of the population in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia will boycott the Russian elections for Duma on Sunday, according to Russian media reports. A large section of the population in the Tskhinvali region supported Alla Dzhioyeva in the so-called presidential elections. Kremlin, on the other hand, supported the candidate who came in second, Anatoly Bibilov. Bibilov demanded that de facto Supreme Court announced the so-called elections invalid and prevented the winner Alla Dzhioyeva from participate in the new election, because of the actions of her supporters. Afterwards supporters of Dzhioyeva took to the streets in Tskhinvali demanding that the current so-called president Eduard Kokoiti resign and transfers government power to Dzhioyeva. They began on November 30 in front of the de-facto government building and still continuing. According to Russian media, Dzhioyeva’s supporters in South Ossetia who are Russian citizen have decided not to participate in the Russian elections for State Duma on December 4, despite an appeal from de facto president Kokoity for them to participate. The de facto republic is planning to open four election precincts for the Russian election ...

News

Businessman will fundamentally reform justice system

by | December 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Answering questions on his Facebook page late this week, businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili said he will 'fundamentally reform' the entire justice system, in order to establish independent courts. Ivanishvili was asked mostly about social conditions, unemployment, health and economy, but also said the courts and entire judicial system will be 'fundamentally reformed'. The businessman’s answers were general in nature. First question was about what his policy would be for cancer patients. The businessman answered that these patients need special care, and that the country needs a strong healthcare system to help people with serious illnesses. Two questions were about pensions and the high prices on public services like waste handling and water supply. Ivanishvili answered that the issue of high charges will be revised in cooperation with experts and prices will then be reassessed. “This issue, as well as the problem of low pensions, will be solved along with the economic development and people's real income rise,” he writes. He thinks that it’s unacceptable that the minimum state pension is lower than the minimum wage. Another user was interested in the problems of large ...

In brief, News

Lawyer on hungerstrike

by | December 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A famous Georgian lawyer is in his sixth day of hunger strike, protesting against the lack of independence of the country’s courts. Zurab Rostiashvili started his hunger strike November 27 because he thinks that in every single case he has worked on, the court has found an innocent person guilty. Due to official data from the National Statistics Service, the courts have aquitted in less than 1% of trials. Zaza Khatiashvili, chairman of the Georgian Lawyer’s Association says the association supports Zurab Rostiashvili’s position about the courts lacking independence and calls for the diplomatic corps to speak out against this injustice. “A month ago, chairman of the Georgian Supreme Court proudly informed about the next results of the survey about Georgian citizens and stated that the trust in the courts has increased in the eyes of the population. This was just another lie to society. I have repeatedly stated that the courts with its unjust judgments have been the main stronghold for the Saakashvili regime,” Zaza khitarishvili says.  

In brief, News

City Hall didn’t expect press’ reaction

by | December 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Zaza Gabunia, representative of the opposition Christian Democrats in Tbilisi City Council, claims that ‘the dismantling the press kiosks in the city is impacting the newspapers distribution and the newspaper circulation has decreased with several thousands.’ He see this as a consequence of Tbilisi City Hall’s decision to remove newspaper kiosks in the capital. Subscriptions is not a viable distribution system in the country. Therefore, the only realistic way to get the papers out to readers is selling them in the kiosks. Representatives of print media see city hall’s decision as an attempt to destroy the free media. Georgian newspapers are seen as the freest media sector, while national TV networks are widely considered under control of the government. There exist a few small stations, but they are not able broadcast nationally. Zaza Gabuna says they suspected that when City Hall announced the tender about locating new booths around Tbilisi, they didn’t expect there to be such a strong reaction from press interests as we are witnessing. According to him, several newspaper distribution booths are already removed in the capital. Gabunia thinks that ...

In brief, News

Vaulted into an Imedi scandal

by | December 2, 2011

He scaled the 3 meter wall in the early morning dusk and bolted into the yard as effortlessly as a panther. Images from Maestro TV's surveillance cameras reveal the athletic abilities of the man who now is in control there. The owners of the station are pushing criminal charges after the wall-jumping, which landed Erosi Kitsmarishvili in the yard of Maestro, to where police later arrived to take his orders and force the station off air. If he plans to get the broadcast going he has a few things going for him -- a building with studios and a large security force to help him out -- but no journalists. They all left last night, together with Maestro's producer Mamuka Glonti, to continue broadcasting from their radio studio, which appears a safer location, after they received a warning that there would be bloodshed if they continued resisting the police siege. Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who some in Tbilisi now call "Spiderman" because of his impressive acrobatics, has a background from using media as a tool in politics. He founded a TV company called Rustavi 2, which ...

News

TV siege over, feared bloodshed

by | December 2, 2011
p1000335-copy

TBILISI, DFWatch - The siege of a Tbilisi TV station is over. Producer Mamuka Glonti finally left after being holed up in a cramped studio for a day and a half, saying he was afraid of bloodshed. Exhausted and almost without a voice, the producer of an independent TV station in the Georgian capital emerged from his confinement to explain to Georgians the reasons for his decision. Speaking on the state broadcaster First Channel, he said he was afraid the situation could turn into a bloodshed. According to Interpressnews, Glonti said he he had received a tip-off that someone was preparing to stage a shooting and this would lead to police intervention. This was the reason he decided to give up the fight and leave the studio. So far, Glonti's staff of journalists and technicians are remaining loyal to him as their boss and have abandoned the Maestro premises, continuing their broadcast from an alternate location used for Maestro radio. Thursday night, the radio's studio was cramped with tv cameras and technicians and a haphazard live broadcast continued into the morning summarizing the ...

News

Negotiations may avoid TV storming

by | December 1, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Journalists, NGO representatives, politicians and other supporters Thursday gathered in front of the Maestro building to support the journalists and demanded the TV station’s journalists are allowed to continue doing their work. The short rally began on at 15:00 and drew about forty protesters, many students and members of non-governmental organizations, blowing whistles to show their objection to the siege. After a few minutes, Maestro journalists came out of the building and one of them, Tea Sichinava, read a statement on behalf of her colleagues addressing the crowd. “We are still not fully allowed to continue working. We welcome the call to start negotiations between the founder Mamuka Glonti and Rustavi Media Management Company founder Eroski Kitsmarishvili,” the statement said. The journalists ask them to start negotiations outside of the Maestro building and they demand that Erosi Kitsmarishvili and people who entered with him Wednesday leave the building. “They interrupt our work, restrict our movements, the entrances to the second and third floors are blocked. It’s completely unacceptable for each of us working under such conditions, because, in our opinion, the editorial ...

News

City Hall defends booth process

by | December 1, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tbilisi City Hall denies that the tender process to install new kiosks around the Georgian capital is not conducted objectively. In recent days City Hall has been showered in accusations. The ‘booths’ issue was been raised by the opposition Christian-Democrats at a session of the City Council, called as a response to the press writings the last week, alerting the public that City Hall was already removing newspaper booths and newsstands in the capital. Subscriptions are not in general use by papers, so most readers get their paper from the local newsstand. Media representatives see the new ‘1000 booths’ plan by City Hall as an attempt to quell free media. The press in Georgia is considered a free, whereas the three national TV networks are seen as government-controlled. There exist a few small TV channels, but they are not able to reach the whole country. Eliso Chapidze, representative of the press association, attended the meeting. She accused City Hall of locating booths selectively. Eliso Chapirdze asked why the auction didn’t apply to the Wide Distribution booths; why is not the press in ...

News

Opposition party’s end preceded TV attack

by | December 1, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The sudden attacked on an independent TV station in Tbilisi was carried out by an opposition politician from a party which was disintegrating the same day, following the advent of a popular newcomer. The man behind the attack is the last remaining leader of a party called the Georgian Party. All his fellow leaders have left, after financier Bidzina Ivanishvili launched an opposition movement which has dwarfed all other opposition groups in the country. One of the party's former leaders, who also was a popular ombudsmann, announced that he is leaving the party almost simultaneously with the the drama outside Tbilisi's independent Maestro TV. The Georgian Party was launched in 2010 with an ambitious PR campaign. But the last few months, several leaders have left the party. Former ombudsman Sozar Subari said in his statement that it was the result of a series of accusations from his party colleagues who he says have accused him of being bribed. The Georgian news was Wednesday dominated by Erosi Kitsmarishvili’s fence-jumping and break-in to the Maestro building and subsequent police siege. Georgian politicians and commentators have ...

News

Police preparing to storm Tbilisi TV station

by | December 1, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The producer and core personnel at Maestro were still holding out Thursday morning, marking 24 hours of the siege of the TV station. The outside perimeter and the building's first floor are besieged by police and members of a private security force loyal to the station's manager, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who says he he has ordered them to lay  the studios under siege and prevent anyone from entering, until producer Mamuka Glonti leaves the premises. Then the siege will be lifted, he promised Wednesday. Mamuka Glonti warned on his Facebook page and on air late last night that he feared the studios would be stormed during the night if not enough supporters showed up to bear witness. A small crowd heeded his call and stayed there overnight, in the early morning also joined by former Public Defender Sozar Subari, who said the police siege is 'clearly unlawful'. Thursday morning Kitsmarishvili stepped up the pressure on Maestro as he warned that if Glonti does not come out of the studio today, he will 'use force' to get him out. Glonti responded that ...

In brief, News

Maestro appeals for people to stay the night

by | November 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - As police peeped in through his locked studio door, Maestro TV's producer Mamuka Glonti appealed to viewers Wednesday evening to come to Nutsubidze Street 83 and stay there overnight, in order to prevent that he and the others who are hauled up inside the studios are evicted. He said that he believes that if enough people don't stay outside Maestro's building overnight, it is highly likely that the TV station will be overtaken during the night, and that will be the end of the station in its present form.

News

Ossetian opposition sets up camp in Tskhinvali

by | November 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Winner of the South Ossetian de facto presidential elections Alla Dzhioyeva has appealed to the region's supreme court with a request to have yesterday's decision to annul the election overturned. South Ossetian news agency RES reports that Dzhioyeva's appeal was delivered to the de facto supreme court chairman Acamaz Bichenov. Her appeal will be considered tomorrow. Alla Dzhioyeva demands that the de facto supreme courts changes its decision made yesterday which annulled the results of the second round of the so called presidential elections. The court made this decision after reviewing the appeal of supposed Kremlin favorite Anatoly Bibilov's Edinstvo party. Bibilov appears to have lost to Dzhioyeva by a clear margin. In front of South Ossetia's de facto governmental building, where the Central Election Commission is also located, Dzhioyeva supporters have been gathered Wednesday, vowing not to leave, despite security firing warning shots. There are reports of a tense situation in Tskhinvali. According to Tskhinvali media, South Ossetian police have twice fired warning shots and this way prevented Dzhioyeva's supporters from breaking into the government building. Dzhioyeva herself was let into the building, ...

News

Shots fired in Tskhinvali

by | November 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Russian news agency Ria Novosti Wednesday reported shooting on the main square in Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia. Supporters of the Alla Dzhioyeva, the appearant winner of the so-called presidential elections, are protesting against the region’s Supreme Court decision to annul the results of the elections. The government’s security fired warning shots to stop the crowd from breaking into the government building, the news agency reports. Alla Dzhioyeva was allowed to enter the building together with Anatoly Barankewitch, former de facto defense minister. There are no injured, as the shots were only fired as a warning. Ria Novosti quotes a source from the so-called presidential administration saying that there are nearly a thousand supporters of Dzhioyeva gathered on the square. The situation was still tense Wednesday at noon. Supporters weren’t able to enter the building and were staying at the square. On Tuesday the so-called South Ossetia’s Supreme Court annulled the results of the elections and scheduled new early elections for March 25, 2012. According to the preliminary results of the so-called Central Election Commission in Tskhinvali region, Alla ...

Media, News

‘Government wants to shut down Maestro’

by | November 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The crisis continues at independent Georgian TV station Maestro, as suspicion is growing that the interference is politically motivated. Financier Bidzina Ivanishvili for the first time came to Maestro’s studios Tuesday evening for a live conversation on a regular discussion program called Pirdapiri Saubari (Direct Talk). Wednesday morning before daylight, the station's manager broke in and demanded to have journalists assembled in order to instruct them, on the premise that Maestro was devoting too much air time to Ivanishvili. Staff refused to take instructions from a politician, and the crisis developed. Many see this as a repetition of what happened to Imedi TV, once admired in Europe for its independence, but today seen by most as fiercely pro-government. It was stormed by police in November 2007, and then was subject to a questionable financial takeover ultimately decided in the courts. At Maestro studios the nervous atmosphere continued Wednesday afternoon as the producer kept alive an emergency broadcast behind locked doors while police prevented most of the station's journalists and staff from entering. Broadcasting was cut off for several hours earlier, but staff is ...

Media, News

TV station under siege!

by | November 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Journalists at Maestro were pacing nervously around in the TV station’s yard Wednesday afternoon, still physically prevented by police from entering their studios to reestablish normal broadcasting. Inside the studios, behind locked doors, producer Mamuka Glonti was leading an emergency broadcast with a few other journalists and technicians, who managed to enter before police sealed the studios. Mamuka Glonti, the journalist who co-founded Maestro, says that when the stations wealthy financier, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, entered the building early in the morning, a Maestro employee called for the police. But instead of helping the journalists, the police sided with Kitsmarishvili and physically prevented the journalists from entering and carrying out their work. Early in the morning, Kitsmarishvili said he is in his full rights to intervene with the channel’s editorial policy. He fired three of the top people: Mamuka Glonti, co-founder and current producer, the general director Ilia Kikabidze and Levan Chikvaidze. Kitsmarishvili said that these people have a share in Maestro, so they were fired in terms of their role as employees, and not as shareholders. Maestro journalists have released a statement about ...

Media, News

2007 rerun! Independent TV taken off air

by | November 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - An independent TV station in Tbilisi was taken off air Wednesday morning, the day after businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili was on live from their studios. Police have surrounded their studios and most journalists are not allowed in, but the station's director and a few journalists are inside,broadcasting short updates. Many regard what is happening as interference in the work of the media and as a response by authorities to a new political reality after Ivanishvili declared his wish to enter politics. The crisis at Maestro TV started when current manager, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, also a well-known politician, broke into their premises Wednesday morning before work had started and tried to arrange a meeting with the staff to give instructions. When the staff refused to take instructions, saying they would not be influenced by a politician, Kitsmarishvili declared he was firing the station's producer Mamuka Glonti, its director Ilia Kikabidze and one other in the management, effective immediately. Glonti, who also owns part of the station, is disputing Kitsmarishvili's right to fire him. During the scuffle, a Maestro employee called the police, who upon ...

In brief, News

Young lawyers concerned about press freedom

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) supports the Press Association rally Tuesday and says Tbilisi City Hall is worsening the conditions of the print media’s distribution system. GYLA says that the organization thinks that the government has a positive obligation to support freedom of the media; which first of all is to get rid of the direct or non-direct factors intervening in the spread of the free word. “GYLA shares the Press Association’s concern regarding the fact that holding a tender to locate booths, in the form which the City Hall is now doing, is nothing more than restricting the spread of newspapers and magazines in an indirect way.” “It is unacceptable to grant the right to sell food products and newspapers-magazines under identical conditions and without treating them differently. Due to information spread by the Press Association, the City Hall decision has negatively impacted the circulation of print media and significantly damaged the press, which is already in a very difficult condition,” GYLA’s statement says. GYLA considers it of vital importance that there will be an adequate reaction from City Hall ...

In brief, News

Republicans also against newsstand scheme

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Republican Party expresses solidarity with distributors and publishers of print media and joins the Press Association in its demands. The party released a statement Tuesday saying that it protests against Tbilisi City Hall’s decision to remove newspaper kiosks. “Tbilisi City Hall’s decision several weeks ago about the location of booths turned out, as expected, to be the next instrument of attack against the press and small business. We have been opposing this decision since the very first day, because it serves to monopolize this sector and root out small business. In addition we demand from City Hall that they publish statistical data of already conducted auctions, and also specific information about the companies and individuals which have been granted the several years right to locate booths on the territory of the capital,” the statement says. It is quite clear to the decision-makers that the distributors of newspapers will never manage to really compete with food, cigarette or lottery companies, the statement explains. “Everybody knows that a ‘special’ place in this segment is held by Kezerashvili’s company and the government leaves ...

In brief, News

Walked 250 km for democracy

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Three supporters of the Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili walked for five days and nights to support his right to get back his citizenship. The ordeal started in front of Gelati, a church in Western Georgia vested with religious and historical significance, and ended at the Trinity cathedral in central Tbilisi. Ivanishvili was stripped of his Georgian citizenship four days after announcing he would enter politics to remove the current government lead by Mikheil Saakashvili. Georgian legislation bars a non-Georgian citizen from engaging in any kind of political activities or finance any political parties in the country. Supporters of Ivanishvili have gathered signatures from all over the country demanding that his citizenship is restored. Luka Kurtanidze, several times world champion in wrestling, director Soso Jachvliani and writer Merab Shatirishvili expressed this demand in a different way – with a special action. They walked on foot for five days and nights from Gelati, which is located in the city Kutaisi in the western part of Georgia, to the Trinity cathedral in the center of Tbilisi – a distance of more than 250 kilometers. The demonstration participants ...

News

Looming specter of turmoil in Tskhinvali

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The dreaded specter of new unrest in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia has not abated, as the Supreme Court cancels the presidential elections as fraudulent and the authorities announce new elections in Spring. According to the news agency RIA Novosti, Amiran Diakonov, chairman of the de facto legislative committee, said that the de facto parliament of South Ossetia has already set a date for new so-called presidential elections for March 25, 2012. The court made the decision as a result of an appeal by the Edinstvo party of supposed Kremlin favorite Anatoly Bibilov. The official results of Sunday’s second round have not yet been published, but according to preliminary results, Alla Dzhioyeva won the elections decisively; despite the fact that her opponent Anatoly Bibilov was considered the Kremlin favorite. According to the last report published by the so-called Central Election Commission (CEC), Dzhioyeva got 16% more votes than Bibilov. Anatoly Bibilov is seen as a conductor of the Kremlin’s interests, which according to local media is more of a problem than a boon, because there has been increasing discontent with the ...

Media, News

Georgian press makes a stand

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian publishers, journalists, editors and others rallied in front of Tbilisi’s City Hall high rise Tuesday to protest against a new plan to replace the capital’s newsstands. The project is called ‘1000 Booths’ and will according to representatives of the media involve removing most of the newspaper sales points which have been a part of the city’s pulsating life for years. Some are simply a portable rack, brought along in the morning and removed in the evening. Others are small permanent booths affiliated with a chain. The process to remove old newsstands has already begun. City Hall explains that the agreement with the newspaper distribution companies had expired, but the companies say that they have repeatedly appealed to the City Hall to prolong the contracts but they kept explaining there is no appropriate law for this process. The problem is that the newspaper subscription system is not popular in Georgia. People get their daily newspapers from the newsstands. Taking them away will effectively make the press inaccessible to people. Not only representatives of print media, but many other media units participated in ...

In brief, News

Tskhinvali’s election commission gagged

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The election commission in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia has been forbidden by the supreme court from announcing any more preliminary results after Sunday's election. The region is on the verge of conflict, as a standoff is developing between the region's supreme court and central election commission (CEC). Tensions grew after it became clear that the opposition's candidate Alla Dzhioyeva seems the clear winner with 57 per cent of votes in the CEC's last announcement Monday afternoon. Supposed Kremlin favorite Anatoly Bibilov received only 40 per cent. After the announcement, the region's supreme court has forbidden the CEC from announcing more election results, South Ossetian news agency RES reported. Tuesday morning, the Russian news site Lifenews.ru is reporting that the situation could escalate into a civil war. It claims to have information that the supreme court might dissolve the CEC. If the CEC is dissolved, there will have to be assembled a new election commission, and a new election will have to be held. Bibilov has claimed that the election was fraudulent.

In brief, News

Kiosk owners asked to boycott censorship plan

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Coalition for Freedom of Choice expresses solidarity with the print media regarding a new system for kiosks in Georgia’s capital which is threatening the newspaper sector and calls other booths owners to join in. “We call for all persons interested in City Hall’s so-called ‘1000 Booths’ tender: to express a civic and social position and do not participate in the tender for locations where there are already standing or until November 25 had been standing newspaper stands. There are only 150 such stands in Tbilisi. If you keep this firm position it will give the opportunity to persons who have sold newspapers for years to participate in the tender and keep the same locations where they’re working now. This way you will support the free media.” “Here we want to request representatives of the press to publish in their editions which locations are the same as the locations of existing newspaper kiosks. We acknowledge that some of the governmental businessmen may still participate in the bidding for the above-mentioned locations, either as businesses or as individuals. In this case, ...

In brief, News

Saakashvili’s opponent joins press protest

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili expresses solidarity with the Georgian Press and is joining them in a protest outside Tbilisi City Hall on Tuesday at 2 pm. “Under the cover of a project called ‘supporting small and medium sized enterprises’, the government attacked the free Georgian print media. We think that the City Hall decision to stop newspaper kiosks’ activity is directed not against ‘uhealthy competition’, but against press freedom, freedom of speech and democracy in Georgia,” the statement released by the businessman’s press office says. Georgian Press Association is organizing a protest rally to be held in front of Tbilisi City Hall on November 29, against City Hall’s decision to remove newspaper kiosks in the city. This might seriously threaten the newspaper sector because it strangles their main distribution channel – street sale.  

In brief, News

Media coalition joins protest

by | November 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Coalition of Media Advocacy is expressing its solidarity with Georgian newspapers which are facing a dire threat of having their distribution virtually strangled. The Coalition said in a statement they too will attend Tuesday’s rally in front of Tbilisi City Hall at 2 pm, along with representatives of the press to protest against city hall’s new kiosk plan. Tbilisi City Hall recently announced a tender within a project called “1000 Booths”. Most of the new booths within the scheme will be placed at locations where there have been newspaper kiosks for a long time, either run by chains or individual vendors. Over the last few days, some of these have been forced to leave. “Newspaper distribution is a problematic issue in Georgia. Announcing a tender for newspaper kiosk locations will make the situation even more difficult, because it will significantly restrict the distribution of magazines and newspapers. We think newspapers, magazines and books are particularly important products for society and it is preferable to have a healthy competition among the distributors of printed media, but not between newspaper distributors and ...

In brief, News

‘Not an election’

by | November 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - “What is happening in the Tskhinvali region can not be called elections,” Davit Bakradze, Georgian Speaker of Parliament said Monday at a parliamentary session to discuss the developments in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia. Alla Dzhioyeva and Anatoly Bibilov were pit against eachother in the second round of the de facto presidential elections November 27. According to preliminary results, Dzhioyeva is heading for a decisive victory, but the final results won’t be announced for another five days. Meanwhile, Tskhivali authorities are mobilizing riot police in anticipation of civil unrest when the results are announced. In the first round November 13, Alla Dzhioyeva was declared the winner by French news agency AFP and others, because she seemed to have a clear margin, but when the final results were published she was a fraction of a per cent behind assumed Kremlin favorite Bibilov. Bakradze claims that the elections are illegitimate and that the position of the international community remains the same. “An election means expressing the people’s choice and position. While thousands of our co-citizens aren’t given the opportunity to return to their ...

Browse our archive by date

December 2017
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031
ads
ads
ads
ads