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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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. ...

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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.

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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‘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, ...

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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.  

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‘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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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-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 ...

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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 ...

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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, ...

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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 ...

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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.  

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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‘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.  

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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TV siege over, feared bloodshed

by | December 2, 2011
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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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.

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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, ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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.

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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, ...

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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 ...

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‘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 ...

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Saakashvili’s opponent allowed to start movement

by | November 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili’s press office Monday announced that the Public Registry has finally registered the movement ‘Georgian Dream.’ An hour earlier, they announced that the Civil Registry had refused to register Georgian Dream. “An hour after releasing the [first] press statement the Civil Registry registered the public movement 'Georgian dream'. This information was published on the civil registry website today at 15:04,” the statement says. ”We remind you once again that we have been waiting for a reply from the Civil Registry confirming the registration confirmation since November 24." Ivanishvili’s press office notes that it has taken longer than normal to get an answer from the registry. “Civil Registry was obliged to register the public movement ‘Georgian Dream’ at the same day of the appeal (24/11/2011); or inform the appealer of the shortcomings in the documents,” the press-office special statement says. At the beginning of October the Georgian businessman unexpectedly announced that he is entering politics to set up a political movement with the aim of forming a government after parliamentary elections in October 2012. A few days later Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ...

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Watchdog body pushes for progress in ‘Batumelebi case’

by | November 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Giorgi Tugushi, Georgia’s Public Defender, asks the chief prosecutor to study information provided by the newspaper Batumelebi. Batumelebi, which is published in the western city of Batumi, November 20 revealed the identity of a policeman who they say tried to blackmail one of their journalists in 2009. In huge letters proclaiming "Found!" the paper exposed Davit Devnozashvili as the police officer who November 25 two years ago presented journalist Tedo Jorbenadze with black and white photos of naked men, insisting that the journalist was one of the men in the photos. He threatened that if the journalist didn’t cooperate with the police he would publish the photos. The case caused concern about pressure being exerted against free press, but until last week investigation had been stalled. But on November 20, Mzia Amabglobeli, director of Batumelebi newspaper, spotted the policeman in front of his house and recognized him. She called for police, who came the place together with investigators. But she claims they didn’t fill out any kind of documents upon arriving. Today’s statement published on the Public Defender’s website ombudsman.ge says ...

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Tskhinvali beefing up security for election results announcement

by | November 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - In Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia people are waiting for the results of the second tour of the de facto presidential elections. Early results indicate that opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva is heading for victory. According to Bela Plieva, chairman of Tskhinvali’s de facto Central Election Commission (CEC), elections have been completed and final results of the vote count will be ready in five days. Before the elections Russian media were predicting that Anatoli Bibilov would win at the expense of Alla Dzhioyeva, the former Education Minister and opposition leader, who received slightly fewer votes than Bibilov in the first round on November 13. Eleven candidates participated in the first round. 17 had originally registered as candidates, but six of them withdrew their candidacy before the elections. Finally, Anatoli Bibilov ended up almost in a tie with Dzhioyeva, but a fraction of a percent ahead with 25.44% against Dzhioyeva’s 25.37 %. Anatoly Bibilov was called a Kremlin favorite by Russian press from the start. According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Bibilov’s candidacy was supported by the Russian regional ministry and the ...

News

Press to picket Tbilisi City Hall

by | November 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Representatives of Georgian press are planning a demonstration in front of Tbilisi City Hall on Tuesday, November 29. Their demand is for the City Hall to stop harassing the free press. This comes after Tbilisi City Hall began to take away press newspaper booths in the capital, which is the main distribution channel for free press in the country. Subscription is not functioning effectively as a means to distribute newspapers, and street sale is vital for the press to survive. The print media considers the new tender to establish a chain of kiosks as an attempt by City Hall to destroy the print media, which is widely regarded as a stronghold of free speech in Georgia. While the press is mostly free, the national TV stations are by most commentators seen as under the control of the government, despite legislative changes to bring more openness in terms of media ownership. There are a few small independent TV stations, but they have so far not been allowed to broadcast to all of Georgia, and are therefore confined to the capital and ...

News

Is harassed businessman Fady Asly?

by | November 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The businessman who was harassed by Georgia's Revenue Service last week is Fady Asly, Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) of Georgia and President and CEO of Agritechnics Holding. Georgian daily Rezonansi reported this in its Monday edition, Mteli Kvira. It is the head of Georgia's Association for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, Giorgi Isakadze, who claims this. The revelation came in parliament Friday as the leader of the opposition Christian Democrat party scolded president Mikheil Saakashvili's government for being engaged in a campaign of harassment against private business. Giorgi Targamadze said a person who is the leader of a business organization based in Georgia, and also head of one of the largest companies in the country, was harassed by the Revenue Service two days after he testified in a closed committee meeting with parliamentarians. Isakadze, who was present at the committee meeting, says that only two people talked about a particular tax issue at the meeting: he and Fady Asly. The background was how to deal with tax debts. The Christian Democrats have suggested to raise the limit ...

In brief, News

Opposition leads in Tskhinvali

by | November 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Oppositional candidate Alla Dzhioyeva is leading and might win the second round of the election in Georgia's breakaway region South Ossetia. At 2 am counting showed she had more than 51 per cent of the votes, while alleged Kremlin favorite Anatoly Bibilov fell significantly behind with 46 per cent. This is a clearer difference than in the first round when the two were head to head. But the outcome is still hanging in the balance, because only 43 of 85 districts had completed counting. Dzhioyeva is the sole female in the breakaway region's election to find a successor for de facto president Eduard Kokoity. She is seen by many seen as an oppositional figure, though another candidate,  Dzambulat Tedeev, had a stronger standing among Tskhinvali's opposition earlier on. He was however prevented by authorities to register as a candidate. Dzhioyeva also seemed to be beating Bibilov in the first round of the election on November 13, but final results showed she fell behind with just a fraction of a per cent, both receiving a quarter of the votes cast.

News

Appeal to civil society, the government, the diplomatic corps and interested persons!

by | November 27, 2011

We, representatives of the Georgian media, regard the Tbilisi City Hall project “Promotion of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises” as having nothing to do with the development of small and medium sized business and creating jobs. It is directed at the destruction of the existing system of distribution of print media and poses a real danger to the free media. We want to emphatically note that the government has repeatedly tried to get the free press under control during the last years. In these days, some of the newspaper kiosks have been forced to seize their activities, under the pretext of holding a tender. The last moves by the Tbilisi City Hall are already impacting the circulation numbers of Georgian print media. All of these create serious financial problems for the magazines and newspapers and hinder the exercise of freedom of speech to reach the public. We regard these steps as a decision counter to the country’s development, the public interest, the media and democracy. We, the undersigned call for and demand of the Tbilisi City Hall to stop the steps made against ...

News

Georgian mine claims 13th victim

by | November 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A miner died Thursday morning following an accident in a coal mine in Tkibuli in the central region of Georgia. Miner Sergi Ashotia died after a wall collapsed. This is the 13th death in the same mine in the last two years. Early comments indicate that the reason for the accident was a massive mine concussion, but the official reasons will only be clear after an official investigation has been carried out. “Massive concussion, massive concussion – they keep saying the same things. It’s very difficult to determine if a concussion’s really happened. How can it happen so often? It’s just a convenient reason to give,” - Viktor Dolidze, chief technical inspector of Georgian Trade Union, says. Sergi Ashotia was a very experienced miner, according to the Trade Union spokesman. “The whole brigade shift that night was very experienced. Sergi was seriously injured in the accident which happened on August 27, 2010. He was badly burned,” Tamaz Dolaberidze, leader of the Metallurgical and Mining Industry Workers’ Trade Union says. According to him, a representative from the Trade Unions will sit in the commission studying ...

News

Claims of harassment by Revenue Service

by | November 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Christian Democrat leader Giorgi Targamadze claims that Georgia’s Revenue Service harassed the head of one of the country's largest companies. Two days before, the person had suggested to the government had made suggestions regarding liberalization of the system to handle tax disputes in a closed session between parliamentarians and business council members. He claims the representative of the business-unit had sent a letter to president Mikheil Saakashvili, Prime Minister Nika Gilauri, Speaker of Parliament Davit Bakradze and to Targamadze himself, right before the incident. He didn’t specify the identity of this person. The Christian Democrats leader said his party for a long time have been asking to raise the limit for criminal liability for tax debts from 25 000 to 100 000 lari, which would have avoided the situation leading up to the incident. “This wasn’t only our idea. An appropriate proposal was coming from the business community. One of the people who had spoke in this same building at the business-council session, writes me a letter and this letter is also on the tables of the president, the prime minister ...

In brief, News

‘Georgia world leader in fighting corruption’

by | November 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The whole world is taking note of how Georgia is tackling corruption, at least according to Prime Minister Nika Gilauri. While answering questions in parliament Friday he said that the whole world is learning from the methods Georgia is using to fight corruption. The comment came during a debate regarding the government’s ’10 point plan’, which was held at the initiative of the Christian Democrats. Gilauri qualified his claim by pointing out that the World Economic Forum has established a task force to deal with fighting corruption which will make recommendations for G20 countries. He noted that the group consists of international experts, journalists and representatives of Interpol, while he is the only representative of a country in the group. “The whole body of work that are the Georgian reforms should be suggested to the international community to decrease the level of corruption in other countries,” the prime minister said.  

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‘Access to Russian market crucial’

by | November 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Christian Democrat leader Giorgi Targamadze says that improving relations with Russia is crucial to Georgia’s economic development. The statement came during a debate in parliament Friday about the government’s ’10 point plan’, a debate his party had called for. Targamadze said, if investments are the most important factor for the country’s economic development, then providing security and stability should be the government’s main concern. But this issue is not even mentioned in the ten-point plan. According to him, the free industrial zone in Poti is not functioning today, because there are Russian tanks standing a few kilometers away. “If your goal is to attract more investments, then we should achieve a stabilization of the relations with aggressive neighbors and minimize the risk for investors. And not the opposite, as you and the media created hysteria when Patriarch visited Russia. We have put this person in an awkward situation and this hysteria is unacceptable for the goals, which foresees creating security guarantees for the investors,” Targamadze said. According to him, the negotiations about a Russian WTO membership has opened new opportunities to enter ...

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PM: Tourism is booming

by | November 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - “Georgia is the main tourist country in the region and we will see better results in the next few years,” Nika Gilauri, Georgian Prime Minister told lawmakers Friday at a debate about a ’10 point plan’ recently announced by the government. Gilauri said the tourism sector has even better results to show than the government had expected. “We didn’t expect that during two years in a row we would have 40% growth in tourists and visitors. But our aim is to increase the number of tourists to minimum 5 million until 2015 year,” the PM remarked. According to him, tourism development is the best way to create employment, and the government is doing everything to achieve this. “Representatives of 100 countries arrive here without visa; we run tourism advertising campaigns; we have direct flights to 29 cities and we continue working on this. There will be investment in Kopitnari [a village in western Georgia] airport; Poti [a city on the Black Sea coast] airport will be built by the end of next year. We have negotiations with budget airlines about coming ...

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Doubts about gov’t employment plan

by | November 26, 2011

Parliamentary faction Christian Democratic Movement demands that the government presents statistics about an employment program implemented before the elections in 2006. Levan Vepkhvadze, representative of the Christian Democrats made this statement at a debate in parliament Friday regarding the government’s ’10 point plan’. The plan was brought in during the campaigning period ahead of the local elections in 2006. Within the frameworks of the plan, two hundred thousand unemployed were ‘attached' to private enterprises and were paid 200 lari each as ‘salary’ from the state for a three month period. Vepkhvadze brought up the five-year old program because the government now has a new initiative, which excempts people from 45 to 60 years old of income tax for one year, if they are able to find work within a six months’ window of time. Vepkhvadze is sure that the new initiative, just like the first one, is targetted only at harvesting votes and not increasing employment. “Let the government present appropriate statistics for the 200 000 people, which were involved in the employment program in 2006 and received 200 lari for three months. How ...

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PM: ‘Thousands of investors coming’

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri claims that “hundred and thousand times more investors are planning to come into Georgia”, because they trust Georgia more than Eastern Europe countries, Greece and Italy. He made this statement in parliament Friday at a debate regarding the government’s ’10 point plan’ held at the request of the Christian Democrats. The Prime Minister said a Standard & Poor’s report indicated that the country has moved forward. “Because of this single report, hundreds and thousands times more investors are going to come to Georgia who have big amounts of money, and they cannot invest in the traditional countries at the time, because of various reasons, and they’re looking for new markets,” the Prime Minister claimed. “Our Eurobonds are traded on more than the Eastern European countries’ Eurobonds.” This indicates an increased trust in Georgia, according to the PM. “So the trust of the international investor is much higher towards Georgia, than towards Eastern European countries, towards Greece or Italy,” Gilauri said.  

In brief, News

‘Elite corruption’

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Jondi Baghaturia, representative of the parliament faction Unity for Justice and the leader of the Georgian Group Party accuses the government of creating monopolies in the country and protecting these monopolies. He made this statement at in parliament Friday. The political debates were held at the request of the Christian Democrats and revolved around the government’s ’10 point plan’. Baghaturia asked the government how many companies import gas to Georgia, and answered the question himself, that there are two such companies. “Why doesn’t a third and fourth company try to get involved in such highly profitable business? Because there is elite corruption, monopolized and corrupt clans won’t allow them. The catastrophic increase in prizes is caused by the divided market among these clans. Corrupt and monopolized clans have divided the whole market among themselves. Competition has died. Accordingly, there are catastrophic prices and the gas price is 2.35 lari,” Baghaturia remarked, and added that the government doesn’t do anything against this situation, but on the contrary protects it.  

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‘Nepotism’

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Jondi Baghaturia, representative of the parliamentary faction Unity for Justice and leader of the Georgian Group Party accuses the government of nepotism. He made this statement in parliament today, during a debate by the request of the Christian Democrats regarding the government’s ’10 point plan’. “Mr. Nika, your brother is head of the Bank of Georgia, don’t you approve this? I don’t have pretensions to you nor to your brother; but when the president goes to the bank headed by your brother, has a meeting and says that it is the best bank and you all should transfer to this bank, what is this called? Isn’t it nepotism; protectionism and elite corruption?” – Baghaturia asked Prime Minister Nika Gilauri.  

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‘Georgia one of world’s healthiest economies’

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - “Going by macro-economic parameters, Georgia is one of the healthiest countries in the world,” Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri said Friday at a debate in parliament. The debate was held at the request of the Christian Democrats regarding the government’s ’10 point plan’. According to Gilauri, economic growth rates are directly dependent on macro-economic parameters, and so the first point in this plan is connected to this issue. “Macro-economic indicators are important to create jobs in the country. Let’s take Greece as an example; or the other countries which have entered into a crisis – what’s happening there? Jobs are being lost there. The countries cannot handle their obligations. They cannot repay the pensions; cannot repay ordinary salaries; the economy is crashed down; the private sector is crashed down and as a result we have seen very difficult situation in Greece; because macro-economic parameters were not right and healthy,” Gilauri said. Georgia is in the best situation in the world, according to him. “We are the only one economy this year, which has increased its [growth] prognosis from 5.5% to 6%; but ...

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Will Georgia’s population be halved?

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Christian Democrats in parliament argue that comparing the specific numbers in the government’s 10-point plan’s to the reality puts the government in a very awkward situation. One of their representatives, Levan Vepkhvadze, said this at a special debates today, which has been held on their request regarding the government’s ten-point plan. “In this document you say that for 2014, GDP per capita will become 5-6 thousand US dollars. Today GDP per citizen is 2 700 US dollars; and if there is 6% economic growth this year, we expect 6% growth for the next year too. In case of a doubling of per capita GDP for 2014, then there has to be 18-20% growth for the next year and these rates should permanently increase the next 3-4 years. Otherwise, the GDP per capita will be doubled only if the total population number will be halved,” Levan Vepkhvadze said in an address directed at prime minister Nika Gilauri, who had been invited to the debate. According to Vapkhvadze, the health program envisaged in the 10-point plan foresees a reduction in the ...

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Strong growth in GPD

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s Prime Minister Nika Gilauri says that gross domestic product (GDP) per capita will be 3 100 US dollars this year. He has made this statement at a political debate in the parliament Friday, regarding the government’s ’10 point plan’ at the request of the Christian Democrats. According to the Prime Minister, the GDP rates for Georgia are the best and achieving it is the government’s merit. “This is not the high rates, but everything is comparable. In 2003 the GDP was 900 US dollars and during these 8 years it has grown threefold, which is the best rates, and in the next 4-5 years Georgia will transfer to a higher level than that of a developing country,” Nika Gilauri stated. A  

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‘No threat of recession’

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri says ‘there is no threat of economic recession in the country’ due to the government’s successful efforts. The new aim for the government is the creation of jobs. The Prime Minister made the statement during a special debate in the parliament Friday regarding the government’s ’10 point plan’, following a request by the Christian Democrats. Gilauri explained that this plan was created based on the ‘Financial Stimulation’ plan implemented in 2009 by the government, which according to the governmental was the most successful in the whole region. “Let’s remember the specific numbers: during the world economic crisis there was increase in the minuses in our neighboring countries – minus 15% in Armenia, minus 12% in Ukraine, minus 10% in Russia, minus 8% in Turkey, minus 18% in the Baltic countries, and Georgia was the only country in the region where the economic fall was only 3.5% and which could manage to get out of recession very soon. In 2010 we had an economic growth of plus 6.4% and this year we also expect good economic ...

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Christian Democrats wants kiosk plan changed

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Christian Democrats has asked City Hall to directly transfer a hundred booths to newspapers and distributors within the framework of the project ‘1000 booths’. Zaza Gabunia, Christian Democrats representative in Tbilisi City Council, said this at a press conference November 25. He added that if Tbilisi City Hall doesn’t do this, the recent initiative to clear away newspaper booths will be an ‘attack on the free media.’ Tbilisi City Hall announced an internet bidding contest for a contract to place 1 000 kiosks around the capital, explained as an effort to support small and middle sized businesses. It is clear from the announcement that Tbilisi City Hall mainly wants to locate the new booths exactly in places where there already are newspaper kiosks. This has caused concern among representatives of the press, except for a few pro-governmental newspapers. According to managers of print media, the distribution of newspapers is in the serious danger and this will benefit neither the press nor for the government nor the wider society. The Christian Democrats say they have requested the City Hall to establish special ...

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Republicans shares press concern about kiosks

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Republican Party joins representatives of the Georgian press in expressing protest against Tbilisi City Hall’s decision to remove newspaper kiosks. The Party’s statement says that City Hall’s decision, which was made several weeks ago, as expected had become an instrument for attack on the press and small business. “We Republicans were against this decision since day one, because it serves for the monopolization of this sector and to oust small business,” the statement reads. The Republican Party demands that City Hall publishes not only the statistical data about the conducted bidding process, but specific information about companies and individuals which were entitled to locate booths on the territory of the capital for many years. “It’s quite clear for the decision-makers that newspaper kiosks will never manage to really compete with food, tobacco or lottery companies. It is known that a ‘special’ place is given in this segment to Davit Kezerashvili’s company, and the government leaves a monopolized situation exactly to this company by the eviction of other firms in the market,” the statement says. The government has announced a internet auction ...

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Informal alliance around Ivanishvili

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Republicans, Free Democrats and businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili’s team will be cooperating with eachother, but they have not yet decided to set up a formal coalition or alliance. Davit Berdzenishvili, one of the Republicans leaders, announced this statement today after a meeting with Ivanishvili. The meeting was held at the businessman’s residence on his own initiative. It lasted for one hour and was attended by all Republicans and Free Democrats representatives. According to David Berdzenishvili, they have created a new political unity which will be an “alternative political center to the government.” “Its final form and the identities of its members will be clear in the near future. It cannot yet be an electoral bloc due to the simple reason that the elections are not yet scheduled. Now it is a process of forming one united political machine,” David Berdzenishvili remarked. Viktor Dolidze, representative of the Free Democrats, explained that it was decided to create eleven working groups which will thematically work on security, economy, agriculture, health and social issues.  

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Prison guards get more protection

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - It has become a criminal offense to threaten a jail worker or his family. A bill adopted by parliament, which makes changes to the Criminal Code, is now in force. Before the change, to resist a lawful order made by a prison or detention facility employee, or in any way prevent the activities of the institution or disrupt its activity, could carry a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment. With the new regulation, to resist a lawful order by a prison or detention facility employee, to use violence against them, threaten to kill them or their nearest relatives, or the make threats to damage health or property, will carry a sentence of imprisonment of up to three years, but only if the threat is connected with the employee’s job activities. Preventing the activities of the institution in some way, or disrupting its activity, is punished in the same way.  

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Old taxes may be cancelled

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Some category of high income taxpayers will have their accumulated unpaid taxes until 2005 cancelled. This is foreseen by a bill to change the Tax Code which was presented to parliament on November 25. If the bill is passed, the Revenue Service will be entitled to write off tax debts, fines and penalty in case it is not considered as recognized and if the tax payer hadn’t been informed by the Revenue Service of the amount of debt accrued. At the same time, in order to be entitled to write off the debt, it must have been presented at least 6 years in before. Parliament is now reviewing the bill about expenditure procedure.  

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2011 budget passed

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s 2011 budget was passed Thursday after a debate in an almost empty parliament. In its revised form it is increased by 219 million lari to a total of 7 570 million. 84 votes for the budget and 4 against. But during the debate there were hardly anyone in the hall. Only 24 lawmakers attended, 20 from the ruling party and 4 opposition representatives. Dimitry Gvindadze, Georgian Finance Minister presented the revised budget at a plenary session. There had to be three roll calls before the voting was allowed to proceed, because too few deputies were in attendance. The minimum number is 76, while at first only 70 members of parliament were registered, and second only 75. At last the problem was solved after a call from the parliamentary speaker.  

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‘Smear campaign’

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Giorgi Tsagareishvili, member of the Free Democrats Party, accuses the government of being engaged in a smear campaign against the opposition. He had made this statement during a debate in parliament Thursday about tightening the rules regarding party financing. Tsagareishvili said that the media have launched what amounts to a smear campaign lately against the Free Democrats, in which the party is accused of working for Russian interests. According to him, the Free Democrats’ choice is a free Europe and Georgia’s integration with NATO. “The Free Democrats admit and focus including you that 20% of our territory is occupied by Russian military forces. We admit that thousands of people are displaced from their home-lands; and now there is Russian boot is stepped in so-called South Ossetia, Akhalgori, also in so-called high-Abkhazia – Dariali Valley,” Tsagareishvili said. According to him, such ridiculus accusations should be stopped once and for all, as should the rest of the smear campaign which the governemt is engaging in against the Free Democrats and other opposition parties via the media. He called for the government to return to legislative ...

News

Georgian press warns it could be wiped out

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian press, which has long been a stronghold of independence, is warning it is in danger of being wiped out by a new distribution system which could be used to censure their access to customers. Newspapers in Georgia are almost totally reliant on street sale. Therefore news stands are the only way papers are able to reach their readers. Recently Tbilisi City Hall announced a tender which indicates that a new chain of kiosks will have their locations at exactly the same places where there are kiosks selling newspapers today. This seems to indicate that the government wants to shut down the existing booths and replace them with the new ones, which if run by a company loyal to the authorities could strangle the press' access to readers, and this poses a significant threat to freedom of the press, warns a number of newspaper editors. The government statement about the new sales booths came recently and announced a bidding contest about locating booths at the specific places around the capital. The announcement from City Hall makes it clear that the ...

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Opposition talked to deaf ears

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - When the opposition bloc Unity for Justice had their thirty minutes in parliament Thursday, the rest of the deputies had left. The only one there was parliament speaker Davit Bakradze. Not only the ruling National Movement were missing, but also other minority representatives. A faction is allowed thirty minutes’ time once for the summer and fall season according to parliament’s regulations. Giorgi Tsagareishvili, Dimitry Lortkipanidze and Jondi Baghaturia shared their bloc's slot to criticize a number of the government’s policies. Besides speaker Bakradze, the only other representatives listening to them were Petre Mamradze and Tamaz Diasamidze, also part of Unity for Justice. The majority and minority explained their non-attendence with the fact that they needed to rest. Jondi Baghaturia called it ‘shameful’ and ‘a protest against their own people.’ He thanked David Bakradze for staying and listening to the end.  

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Mega dams will go ahead regardless

by | November 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Aleksandre Khetaguri, Georgia’s minister for energy and natural resources says two controversial hydropower projects in the west of the country will be built and there is no alternative. He had made this statement during question time in parliament Thursday. The minister saud the construction of the Khudoni and Namakhvani dams started during the Soviet Union and now they are in such condition that they need to be built. Khetaguri claims that both projects have had an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) conforming with international standards, and there will be public hearings. As for the population in those regions, according to the minister, they will be provided with alternative settlement. “The construction of Khudoni hydropower station will probably begin in the coming year. We have announced the tender for the construction of the Namakhvani nearly a week ago. I hope that the construction will begin shortly after conducting a tender, because it’s the most studied object in terms of the ecologic impact on the environmet,” Khetaguri added. According to parliament regulation government question time is held on the last Thursday in a ...

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Tbilisi boosts defense by 7%

by | November 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia expands its defense budget by 7% next year. The growth is explained with the country’s need for security. 44 600 000 Georgian lari more will become available for military spending, bringing the total to 704 631 200 lari for defense, finance minister Dimitry Gvindadze told lawmakers Thursday at a session to review the 2011 budget and plan ahead. The revised 2011 budget will grow by 219 million lari compared to its original form, to a total of 7 570 million lari. Members of the opposition in parliament expressed interest in the increased defense budget. Gvindadze says the growth is due to certain tendencies the last few years. The Ministry of Defense was growing until 2008 when it had 23% of the total state spending at its disposal. This amounts to 8.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). According to the Minister, since 2009 the Ministry of Defense have seen a fall in financing to 9.3% of the total expenses in the current year. “This level is necessary for the Ministry of Defense’s responsibilities in providing the country’s security,” the minister stated.  

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Victims of Soviet repression lose compensation

by | November 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian authorities have stopped paying compensation to families of people who were victim of Soviet repression, according to Giorgi Tsagareishvili, representative of the Free Democrats and chairman of the parliamentary bloc Unity for Justice. Tsagareishvili asked finance minister Dimitry Gvindadze to clarify the issue Thursday at a plenary session in parliament to review the 2011 budget. According to Tsagareishvili, the Finance Ministry has stopped paying even small installments defined by court, specifically 150, 200 and 220 Georgian lari. In addition, court appeals about granting compensation have been suspended, according to the Free Democrats representative. Georgian legislation leaves it up to courts to decide who should receive compensation for repression by the bolshevist regime. Tsagareishvili asked the government to solve the problem. “These people at least deserve that their compensation funds be recorded in the specific article in the budget,” he says. Finance minister Gvindadze claims this is the first time he hears about the freeze in compensations payment. Answering the call to enter a record in the budget for compensation funds, Gvindadze said: “This is not necessary, and the government will return to the issue ...

In brief, News

Did 219 million lari disappear?

by | November 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - An opposition lawmaker accuses the government of having spent 219 million lari and trying to hide it by creative budgeting. Jondi Bagaturia of the Georgian Group party, who is part of the Unity for Justice bloc in parliament, said this at a plenary session Thursday to review the country’s 2011 budget. The 2011 budget is being expanded by 219 million lari compared to the original plan, to 7 570 million lari. Such an increase at the end of the year has raised suspicion in opposition quarters. As Bagaturia sees it, if the government has an extra 219 million, then the pension raise should start from January 1, instead of in September, at least by five lari. “You say that you have 219 million lari. Then increase the pension from January 1. But I have a suspicion that this money is already spent, and now you want to legalize it. Our faction will not support such a legalization of illegal spending,” Bagaturia told the ruling majority. Basic pension in Georgia is 100 lari per month. The government vows to increase it from September, but ...

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Georgia braces for Euro crisis impact

by | November 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian finance minister says the country will financially stand on its feet in 2012. Dimitri Gvindadze made this statement today in parliament as lawmakers were gathered for a plenary session to review the 2011 budget. In its revised form, the 2011 budget will be increased  by 219 million lari, to 7 570 million lari. The minister explained the increase with larger tax revenues because the economy has grown more than expected. ‘Current resources and fiscal strength’ give grounds for forecasting that the country will ‘financially stand on its feet’ next year. “These resources are necessary for the country to withstand the various outside pressures stemming from the Euro crisis,” Gvindadze said.  

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Georgia waives visa on ethnic grounds

by | November 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgia establishes a new system based on ethnicity, which gives people of Georgian origin the right to visa free travel, education grants and to represent their mother country at sports events. The Law on Diaspora Organizations and Compatriots Living Abroad was approved by parliament Thursday. It establishes a new status for citizens of other countries who can show that they were either born in Georgia or can trace their roots here. After filling in the required application, and upon approval, a special document will allow visa free entry, if a visa would otherwise have been required, for up to 30 days. In addition, the law foresees state education grants and state Master’s degree grant for people having the new status. Pending approval from the international sports federation within the relevant sports discipline, compatriots with the new status will also have the right to represent Georgia in international tournaments.  

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Ivanishvili citizenship decision gets closer

by | November 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili is one step closer to knowing whether he will be allowed to run in Georgia’s coming parliamentary and presidential elections through ordinary avenues, as Tbilisi’s city court schedules his pre-trial session for December 5. The issue before the court is whether to give him back his Georgian citizenship. But Ivanishvili is also planning to go directly to the president and request him to grant him citizenship. The case goes back to the beginning of October, when the businessman’s citizenship was revoked following a presidential decree dated October 11. The reason given was the fact that Ivanishvili is a French citizen. According to the government’s version of all this, Ivanishvili was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004. He was a Russian citizen at that time, so it meant that he became a dual citizen. But Ivanishvili later became citizen of a third country, France. Due to Georgian legislation, the government argues, his citizenship should then have been determined. But the French citizenship was unknown to authorities, it is claimed, until Ivanishvili published an open letter on October 7 expressing ...

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Congressmen met opposition before the government

by | November 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A delegation of US congressmen who came to Georgia for the eight-year anniversary of the rose revolution held meetings with the opposition before meeting the government. At the meetings with the opposition they spoke about the problems in the country. According to official information from the US embassy, the congressmen arrived here for a two-day visit, and they will be meeting with both the president Mikheil Saakashvili, Parliamentary Speaker Davit Bakradze, Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council Giorgi Bokeria as well as opposition representatives. The congressmen in the delegation are: David Dreier (Republican from California), Ed Whitfield (Republican from Kentucky), and Donald Payne (Democrat from New Jersey), and also Barry Jackson, Chief of Staff to the House Speaker. The delegation chairman is congressman Dreier, who is chairman of the House Committee on Rules. The meeting between the opposition and congressmen has been held in the US embassy. Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats, David Usupashvili, chairman of the Republicans, Giorgi Targamadze, leader of the Christian Democrats, David Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rightists party and Kakha Shartava, one of ...

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Tbilisi unveils statue of Ronald Reagan

by | November 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian capital marked the anniversary of the rose revolution in 2003 and twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union by unveiling a bronze statue of US president Ronald Reagan today. “He brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union and freed the lives of thousands of people. So he now more than ever deserves his own place in the center of Tbilisi and in the heart of Georgia,” President Mikheil Saakashvili said at the unveiling ceremony. “Because Georgia is also his achievement and the conductor of ideas, supporter of an ideology, which Reagan had been conducting all of his life,” the president said next to the bronze statue showing Ronald Reagan sitting on a bench. Today is also Saint George’s day, one of Georgia’s patron saints. The statue was made by Georgian sculptor Avtandil Monaselidze and is located in the old district of Tbilisi, on the bank of the river Mtkvari, in a newly reconstructed green lung called Rike Park.  There is  enough space on the bench next to Reagan’s statue for people passing by to sit down ...

News

Newspaper exposes identity of policeman who blackmailed journalist

by | November 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian newspaper has gone public with the identity of a policeman who blackmailed one of its journalists two years ago. According to the newspaper Batumelebi, which is published in the western coast city Batumi, the person who blackmailed Tedo Jorvbenadze, the coordinator of the paper’s investigative team, on November 25, 2009, was a policeman named Davit Devnozashvili. “The person who tried to entice the journalist to cooperate with the police in an illegal way is Davit Devnozashvili, born in 1971,” reads a letter addressed to the Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and written by the director of Batumelebi Ltd. Three Batumelebi employees went to the Interior Ministry Building in Batumi, after police tried to force Tedo Jorbenadze to sit in the car in the evening in front of the newspaper office. He refused and suggested to go there himself. Netgazeti, an online newspaper run by Batumelebi, reported that a person called Davit showed Jorbenadze black and white photos of naked men insisting that the journalist was one of the men on the photos. If he didn’t cooperate with them, then they would ...

News

Party financing rules target opposition

by | November 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A leading legal expert says the new rules on party financing will severely hamper opposition parties as Georgia enters two consecutive election years. The new rules are widely seen as a move to make it more difficult for billionaire philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili to use his wealth to claim political power. They will criminalize many ways of directly or even indirectly giving money to political parties. Vakhtang Khmaladze, an experienced constitutional expert, thinks the measures might reinforce the reluctance among Georgia’s business community to support anyone else than the ruling party. “A number of actions may be criminalized. In such economic condition which Georgiais in, how many people will have the possibility to donate to a party? If there will be any, do you think anyone will donate? Of course, the one who is scared. Usually it happens this way and it is proved by the list of the donators into the National Movement fund,” Khmaladze says. In summer as part of a debate about reforming the election system, it was suggested to restrict party financing, but only after Mr Ivanishvili ...

News

Tax break for seniors labelled age discrimination

by | November 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A leading opposition member of parliament says the government’s new tax break for seniors is a form of age discrimination. Free Democrat leader Giorgi Tsagareishvili, who is chair of the parliamentary faction Unity for Justice, says the initiative is a politically motivated decision and part of the election campaign and that it is ‘unacceptable to make such a discriminatory decision.’ The tax break is an initiative coming from the president which will abolish income tax for those from 45 to 60 years old. The president made his promise a few weeks ago, and parliament has just started discussing how to work out the appropriate legislative changes to accommodate the president’s promise. The initiative will exempt people from 45 to 60 from paying income tax for a year, if they are able to find employment starting in the period between January 1, 2011 and July 1. But only those qualify who were unemployed in the three months prior to finding work. The main argument behind it, according to president Mikheil Saakashvili, is that the tax cut creates more motivation to employers to hire ...

News

Secret bill reins in party financing

by | November 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government has secretly sent a bill to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission which seems to block Bidzina Ivanishvili's last option for using his wealth to build an opposition movement. Private companies and organizations are prohibited from financing political parties. Individuals will have the right to give a maximum of sixty thousand Georgian lari per year. Membership fees can’t exceed 1200 lari per year. The annual income of a party, including state financing, can not exceed 0.2% of Georgia’s gross domestic product (GDP). Any amount received more than that should be paid to the state. In order to receive government financing, a preliminary application will be necessary. A Georgian citizen with over 15% income from a simplified state procurement of an enterprise he has  shares in can’t be a donor to a political party. Party membership fees and donations from citizens can only be transferred by non-cash money. The Chamber of Control will do the financial reporting of the party, instead of the Central Election Commission (CEC). The amendment will be made to the Law on Political Unions of Citizens. In ...

News

Adjara TV broadcasting in violation of the law

by | November 21, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - For the last three weeks Georgian television station Adjara TV has been broadcasting in violation of the constitution and the law on broadcasting. The Georgian government is responsible by not passing a law which would split it off from the autonomous republic’s authorities. Adjara TV has been operating as a branch of the authorities of the region since 2004, pending a bill which split it off and make it either a private company or part of the Georgian Public Broadcasting. The deadline for doing has been postponed several times and last ended on November 1. The government has not explained why no decision has been made yet. Adjara TV broadcasts via satellite and can be watched for free. It is financed from the state budget and is considered part of the state, more specifically as one of the departments of the Adjarian Autonomous Republic, which is the official name of the southwestern part of Georgia. This contradicts article 24 of the Georgian Constitution, where it says: ‘Mass media are free, censorship is prohibited.’ Despite the fact that this section of the ...

News

75% support Ivanishvili on Facebook

by | November 21, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - When asked on Facebook ‘Who would you vote for, Bidzina Ivanishvili or Mikheil Saakashvili?’, 24 000 out of nearly 32 000 Georgians answered they would support Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, while only 7 500 voted for the current president. This is a large number and ‘it shows a clear tendency’, according to a specialist in social research methodology. The Georgian philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili unexpectedly released an open letter on October 7 saying that he had decided to enter politics and run in the parliamentary election in October 2012. In a number of statements and interviews he said he is going to set up a political party, and if he wins the elections he will impeach Saakashvili, unless the president resigns. “This poll is incorrect and pointless, because none of them will take the part in the elections,” Sandro, one Facebook user, comments. Saakashvili is serving his second term, which will be his last, due to the Georgian constitution, which prevents him from staying on for a third term. A few days after Ivanishvili declared he would join politics, his Georgian citizenship was revoked. ...

News

Don’t mention the lawyers

by | November 19, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - 123 lawyers have been put in jail the last 7 years, and tell horrific stories of beatings and rape. But EU parliamentarians Thursday decided not to mention the lawyers in their criticism of Georgia. Krzysztof Lisek, speaker of the European Parliament on Georgia issues, was in Tbilisi Friday discussing the latest resolution with Georgian parliamentarians. He says the ‘EU is not a closed club, and its doors are open for everyone sharing the EU’s values, including for Georgia.’ Lisek organized a session of the EU’s integration and foreign relations committee in the Georgian parliament. He explained the recent resolution, which in effect tells the Georgian government how it must improve in order to get an association agreement and free trade with the EU. “EU considers Georgia a European country. The North Partnership program included two of six countries – Georgia and Moldova are going in the right direction in terms of reforms. The procedures of EU integration don’t end with yesterday’s resolution, but Georgia made one step forward to Europe with this document. According to the Lisbon agreement, the European ...

News

PM: Georgia doesn’t need EU integration yet

by | November 18, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s Prime Minister Nika Gilauri thinks that under today’s conditions, Georgia doesn’t need to be integrated with the European Union. There are negotiations with the EU now about a free trade agreement, and Georgia ‘is hoping for visa liberalization agreement and free trade agreement’. “For now EU is not ready to accept new members. But the EU integration is on the agenda of long term goals for Georgia,” he said. The prime minister’s remarks fell during a conference about policy measures for creating a better business environment in the country, during a conference organized by British magazine The Economist in Tbilisi on November 17. The minister spoke about the successful reforms implemented since 2003. According to him, the most important, successful but hard reform to implement was the fight against corruption. Then came education reform and other reforms. Today the country’s first priority in terms of reforms is a pension and healthcare reform, the PM claimed. During the discussion both he, the minister of economy and other Georgian speakers mentioned that in the agricultural sector Georgia is becoming more and more ...

News

Benefits of an embargo

by | November 18, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Russia’s embargo has made Georgia seek out new markets thereby making the country more independent, Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia’s national security council, said on Thursday. Bokeria said this during a conference organized by the British magazine The Economist in Tbilisi. He was responding to a statement by opposition politician Irakli Alasania, who noted that the Georgian government isn’t capable of mending relations with its northern neighbor and is scaring off investors by on the one hand inviting them to come, but on the other talking about a lingering threat of Russian intervention. According to Alasania, export of Georgian goods to Russia used to be 18% and now it’s about 2%. But at the same time, despite Russia’s invasion, economic interests still exist. During the conference, the Free Democrats leader said that there is a contradiction between the message the government is sending foreign investors. “On the one hand we are a tourism country and asking global companies to invest in Georgia, and this is precisely what should we be doing and will do in future. But on the other hand, ...

News

Bendukidze criticizes European bureacracy

by | November 18, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian economic analyst Kakha Bendukidze Thursday criticized the European Union for having too much bureacracy. “We are a European country. Psychologically and politically we are part of Europe, the Europe of human rights, respecting principles of the circulation of capital. But there is another Europe, which is a bureaucratic creature, which decides tax rates and how the cucumber should be formed. I don’t want such a Europe. Such a Europe is in agony. There is a crisis in Europe, which wants to excessively apply bureaucratic rules. We don’t want a Europe where Greece's problems creates a crisis in it,” he said at a conference organized by The Economist magazine. According to Bendukidze, this week is decisive for Europe, and these days will define whether the crisis will deepen or not. And if it deepens, then it will also affect the Georgian economy. He also discussed the reforms in terms of Georgia and Europe. For a country where 20% of the territory is occupied and there is a small market, reforms are very important, he said. The British magazine The Economist held ...

News

Gov’t to Cartu Bank: Stay out of politics

by | November 17, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - If the managers of Cartu Bank won’t keep out of politics and get its house in order, the National Bank will take it over. Giorgi Kadagidze, president of the National Bank, said this Thursday at a session of the parliament’s finance and budget committee. Cartu Bank is owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian businessman who October 7 declared he would enter politics. Four days later, the president revoked his citizenship, and then, on October 18, a Cartu Bank money transport carrying 2 million dollars and one million Euros from the Bank of Georgia was raided by police. Later the government explained that it was an operation money laundering, but the Cartu Bank management claims the cash was cash reinforcement between banks, and part of the normal operation of banks. The National Bank then began an audit into Cartu Bank, which is not yet completed. Cartu Bank president Nodar Javakhishvili claims that the public services have halted all contracts with the bank and closed their accounts. Despite the numerous questions raised in the time since, no answers have been forthcoming. In addition, Nodar ...

News

Ashton commends Georgian trade reforms

by | November 17, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hopes that the negotiations about a free trade agreement with the EU will be completed ahead of schedule. The president said this after a meeting with Catherine Ashton, EU's vice-president and high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Ashton is in Georgia within the South Caucasus visit frameworks. She began her visit in Azerbaijan, which she visited on November 15. Thursday she’ll visit Armenia. Georgia’s foreign minister Grigol Vashadze also attended the meeting which took place at the president’s residence. The main topics for the meeting were free trade with European countries, liberalization of visa rules and the negotiations process regarding Georgia’s associate membership in the EU, according to statements made during a briefing afterwards. Catherine Ashton stated at the briefing that it’s a great honor for her to visit Georgia for the second time. She focused on free trade between Georgia and the EU. According to her, Georgia has shown great progress in the trade sphere and is carrying out important reforms in this area. “Trade relations are important to the Georgian population as well as for ...

News

The Economist to hold conference in Tbilisi

by | November 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The British magazine The Economist will gather experts and politicians in Tbilisi November 17 to discuss and analyze Georgia’s investment environment and perspectives. The event will take place in the Radisson hotel. Among the Georgian speakers will be prime minister Nika Gilauri, finance minister Dimitry Gvindadze, and Vera Kobalia, the minister of economy and sustainable development. Free Democrats leader Irakli Alasania will also be attending. Among the foreign speakers tomorrow are Asad Alam, country director at the South Caucasus Country Department, Paul-Henry Forester, EBRD country director for Moldova, Caucasus and Belarus, Tom de Waal, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment. Dougal Thomson (pictured), Head of the Conference Program CEMEA of the Economist Group and the chairman of tomorrow’s conference, told journalist today at a special conference that the summit will discuss the environment which can influence the Georgian economy in the future. “We are not here to tell investors to invest in Georgia, we are here to talk openly and critically about the investment problems and possibilities in Georgia. If we will be able to make Georgia more successful in terms ...

News

Patriarch: Everything will be all right

by | November 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - It was a moment heavy with symbolism when Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili and Patriarch Ilia II emerged from their meeting Tuesday. “We are pleased that Ivanishvili visited the Antioch today. We have discussed a number of issues, especially the future of Georgia and its current condition. I think everything will be all right,” Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch his Holiness and Beatitude Illia II stated after the one hour meeting. Ivanishvili said it had been one of the happiest days in his life. “I have met with his Holiness for several times. Today has been a very interesting meeting. I received a number of advice from him, which I will take note of and which will help me in my future activities,” Ivanishvili said. By most accounts he looks set to be the next leader of Georgia, if he is allowed to engage in politics, but his progress is blocked by a presidential decree which stripped him of his citizenship. A campaign was launched in support for his attempt to get it back, and last Sunday in his sermon the patriarch made it clear he ...

News

Opposition wants debate about 10 point plan

by | November 16, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Just as the government is getting ready for a nationwide tour to promote its new ten point plan for developing the country, the opposition Christian Democrats say the plan should first be discussed in parliament. “Parliament is a place, where the main positions should be heard, especially when it comes to issues like the country’s development,” Levan Vepkhvadze of the Christian Democrats says. He emphasizes that it is very important to hold debates regarding the government’s action plan. The Christian Democrats Monday made a formal request to have such a debate, which they have a right to according to the rules. The government can't refuse, but the parliamentary speaker promises to solve the issue at the next session on November 22. According to Vepkhvadze, the ruling party is preparing a nationwide tour to promote its ’10 point plan’ to the population, village by village. But the Christian Democrats think it would be better if the government had visited those villages to learn about their problems, and not to promote a plan that is already made. Vepkhvadze also points out that it ...

News

Saakashvili challenger consults with Patriarch

by | November 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The main challenger in Georgian politics Tuesday consulted with the country's highly respected patriarch, and received advice about his further steps to claim power.  Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, Georgia's most respected person, met Bidzina Ivanishvili Tuesday at 6 pm, and the businessman afterwards said he received many tips which will help him in his political career. President Saakashvili has not commented on the development. The Georgian billionaire and longstanding philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili declared last month that he will be seeking power in the parliamentary election in October 2012. A few days later authorities revoked his Georgian citizenship thereby blocking him from entering politics. Mr Ivanishvili later said he wanted to meet the patriarch, and in an interview with a local media organization, Palitra, said such a meeting was already scheduled. Meanwile, there was an expectation that the country's most respected person, Patriarch Ilia II, would share his views on what is happening, and last Sunday he finally made his position clear, saying he is convinced that president Saakashvili will do the right thing and grant the businessman his citizenship. Tuesday, news broke ...

News

Alasania calls for a referendum

by | November 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Free Democrats leader Irakli Alasania asks the government to put the the latest constitutional change to the people in a referendum, calling it an illegal decision. The process is already in motion to change the constitution and increase the number of members of parliament from 150 to 190. But most of the opposition and commentators consider the whole initiative illegal, because the number of MPs was decided by a referendum, and therefore it may only be changed by another referendum. While making the statement yesterday at a rally outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, Alasania described the planned constitutional change as ‘the sole decision of Mikheil Saakashvili’. “This is an amendment which is not needed for the Georgian population,” the Free Democrats leader said. “This is a decision which will increase the number of the MPs by adding 40 extra, whose names are unknown to the voters even in their own regions.” According to Alasania, the decision runs counter to the what the people decided in 2003, when as a result of a referendum they supported decreasing the number of MPs to ...

News

Prime minister gets increased power

by | November 14, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Changes in how the leader of Georgia's Adajara region is chosen raises further suspicion that power is being concentrated in the office of the prime minister, increasing fears of a Putin scenario. The president has agreed with the government about the candidacy of the Chairman of the Adjara’s Autonomous Republic of Georgia. He will present the candidate to the Adjarian Supreme Board for approval. Due to the current constitution, the president doesn’t need governmental approval for this. Some experts see the decision as an attempt to increase the Prime Minister’s power even further, while others see this initiative in light of last year's constitutional amendments. Both sides think it’s a problem that due to the current constitution and these amendments, the issue of decentralizing government powers remains controversial. The amendment, which changes the country's management model, has been in the constitution since October 2010. The presidential authority is significantly reduced, and the Prime Minister’s rights are increased. It was a very controversial issue at the time, because experts don't think these amendments can solve the problems with power balance in ...

News

Inconclusive election in Tskhinvali

by | November 14, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Tskhinvali region is heading for a run-off between the two main contenders in the presidential election, after none of them got above the 50 per cent threshold to win in the first round. According to Agence France-Presse, results from 78 out of 86 polling stations showed that alleged Kremlin-favorite Anatoly Bibilov fell slightly behind contender Alla Dzhioyeva, the sole female in the race, who is seen by many as an oppositional figure. According to AFP, Bibilov won 25.44 percent of the votes and Dzhioyeva 25.37 percent. Tskhinvali residents also voted in a referendum about declaring Russian the official language. According to Russian media, there was a calm atmosphere during election day. However, the election campaign was strained, and an opponent of Bibilov, Dzambulat Tedeev, was prohibited from registering his candidacy. Tedeev is head coach of Russia’s independent wrestling team and his supporters aren’t only from the sport world. Mamuka Areshidze, legal expert on Caucasus issues claims that Tedeev has a family surname which is very common in the Tskhinvali region, something which has helped him gather supporters, because of the importance ...

News

‘Russia and Georgia: looking for a solution’

by | November 13, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - ‘Russia and Georgia: looking for a solution’ – this is the title of a new collection of articles on Russia-Georgia problems, published by Russian and Georgian experts. With the help of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS), and support from the EU and the UNDP project COBERM (Confidence Building Early Response Mechanism). The collection has eight articles. Contributors from Georgia are Vladimer Papava, Tengiz Pkhaladze, Tornike Sharashenidze, George Tarkhan-Mouravi, Ivlian Haindrava, while the Russian contributions were written by Nikolay Silaev, Ivan Sukhov, Boris Frumkin, Andrei Zagorski and Alexander Skakov. Legal expert Kakha Gogolashvili has been leading the project. He notes that more experts had been participating in the process to define the list of the problems to work on. He thanks for this all the participating experts; including Carnegie Moscow Center and two Abkhazian experts, which have been participating in the working meetings. The identity of the Abkhazian experts is not revealed, so that they wouldn’t have any problems. Gogolashvili feels sorry that there hadn’t been found any expert in Tskhinvali. The collection was presented at the GFSIS office ...

News

Half-empty parliament oks election map redraw

by | November 12, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Barely half of parliament attended when a crucial proposal to rearrange how they themselves are elected was being discussed yesterday. The constitutional amendment in question will both increase the number of parliamentarians from 150 to 190 and change how they are elected, and is therefore one of the key changes to Georgia's election system as the country enters two consecutive election years. While controversial to some, the government had two opposition factions onboard last summer which signed an agreement stipulating that from now on, 83 members of parliament will be chosen through a system of single candidate districts, on a principle of first past the post, while the rest 107 will be chosen on the basis of a system of proportionality. Part of the plan also foresees splitting up single-candidate districts that have more than 100 000 voters. Accordingly, there will be 10 new single-mandate districts in various parts of the country. One of the objections to the plan is that when the current number of representatives was lowered to 150 back in 2003, a decision which came into force in ...

Legal reform, News

Oops! Gov’t backtracks on election reform

by | November 11, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government is retracting on several of its eleventh-hour changes to the Georgian election law, but  stands firm on not allowing video surveillance in polling stations and defends the right of governors to participate in the election campaign. This emerged Friday in comments made by a member of the editorial group which has worked out the text of the draft law, Mamuka Katsitadze, of the New Rights party. When the ruling party suddenly introduced changes to the draft law without consulting anyone in August, several organizations objected, such as the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Transparency International Georgia and International Society for Democracy and Fair Elections. They objected that a number of issues needed to be changed, especially when it comes to issues which were introduced right before the draft law was finished, and after an agreement had been signed with two opposition factions. The Venice Commission also criticized the last minute changes. During their recent working visit to Georgia, the Commission said it was necessary to stick to the terms of the agreement. According to Mamuka Katsitadze, the government is now ...

News

Georgia creates terror watchlist

by | November 11, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia is to build its own list of known terrorists, and seize the property of persons designated as terrorists by the UN. Specifically the bill will amend the law on Anti Money Laundering Support. Initiators are MPs Andro Alavidze and Kakhaber Anjaparidze. If passed, the bill will establish a new commission which will make it possible to seize the property of persons defined by UN resolutions as terrorists, so that these persons won’t be able to finance terrorism or other illegal activities. The commission will work closely with foreign countries and international organizations, including the UN. A chairman will head the commission, and other members will be selected by the government. Another thing the commission will do is to petition the courts to seize the property of those persons as defined by UN resolutions. This new anti-terrrism commission will also be authorized to work on and establish a list of people connected with terrorism. The commission will be able to apply to the courts with a petition to seize or free from seizure these peoples’ property, after going through the right administrative procedures. In ...

News

Nato will discuss Georgia at Chicago summit

by | November 11, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Nato's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has promised that the issue of Georgia’s membership in the alliance will also be reviewed at the summit in Chicago next May. Rasmussen said this at a press conference with President Saakashvili in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea shore. “We have not yet finished the preparations for the Chicago Summit. There are six months before the summit and work on the program is still underway. Everything can happen. We have not made any decisions yet, but without doubt, NATO allies will discuss the Georgia issue at the summit. There is a talk about how things will happen,” Rasmussen stated. According to him, a special document will be adopted on the summit which will reflect the progress in the reforms in Georgia. “I hope that the document, which will be adopted at the Chicago Summit, will reflect the progress which we have seen in Georgia,” the Secretary General noted. But he added that Georgia has to pay all of its attention to implementing the reforms; because the relations between Nato and Georgia will depend ...

News

Are pension promises for real?

by | November 10, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government has promised to increase pensions and to provide state insurance for the pensioners, but hasn't set aside money for it in the budget. Parliament demanded that the budget made room for these promises. “Within the bill’s assignments framework there should be foreseen finances for the further increase of the pensions. All pensioners should be insured,” it's written in parliament's remarks about the decision. Later, the has government has confirmed a number of times that the promise would be kept, last by prime minister Nika Gilauri yesterday at a meeting with the president. “We have the resources to amend the social assistance after September 1, 2012, including to provide insurance for all pensioners,” Gilauri stated. But in order to implement this it is necessary for next year's budget to reflect the increased spending. Since the plan was introduced it has been discussed by parliament one time already, and it is now in its second round of debate. In the revised 2012 budget of November 4, the government confirmed that the promise will be kept. “The Georgian government is working on social reform to increase ...

News

Republican leader reelected

by | November 10, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The leader of the Republicans for the last two years, David Usupashvili, was reelected Wednesday by 600 party delegates in a secret ballot at a specially gathered party congress. The to party’s charter requires there to be a congress held once a year, at which the party leadership is chosen. A new computer program had been created especially for this meeting, and it was the first time electronic elections were held using the program. By secret ballot, republicans chose a new 30-member committee from 61 candidates and a 5-member audit commission from 10 candidates at yesterday’s congress, which was the fourteenth party congress. David Usupashvili was reelected party leader, taking on his third period at the helm of the party. Members explain the outcome with the fact that Usupashvili has a high approval rating in the party. The new leader promised that the Republican party will soon be a player in an important political process. He laid out his views on a potential partnership with businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili and the party of Irakli Alasania, and estimated that the alliance will be operational ...

News

NATO demands more reforms in Georgia

by | November 10, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Ambassadors from NATO member countries yesterday reaffirmed their commitment made at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 that Georgia will become member of NATO, but made it clear that membership will require further reforms in the country. They made these statements after a meeting of the NATO-Georgia commission in Tbilisi. According to NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Georgia has moved closer to the North-Atlantic alliance. “Georgia is very important to NATO and I know that NATO is important to Georgia. The Alliance fully supports reforms in Georgia and your aspiration to join the Alliance. We all agreed that Georgia will become a member of the Alliance in 2008 in Bucharest, and this decision is still valid,” he said. “Now I’m saying that Georgia has moved closer to the Alliance. Our annual reports clearly indicate that Georgia has implemented number of reforms and the progress is evident; but it’s also obvious that there are still some works to be implemented,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen adds. Due to his explanation, ‘some works’ are the reason why he cannot say ‘specifically when Georgia has to expect ...

News

New refugee status in Georgia

by | November 9, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia will change the way refugee status is regulated, after a bill was introduced in parliament. The new bill on Refugee and Humanitarian Status is quite lengthy in comparison with the 1998 Law about Refugee Status, which it replaces. The government explains the changes with a need for legal refinement on a number of issues: to have a definition of the legal standing of people with refugee and humanitarian status and a need to fall in line with international standards. The background to the new bill reflects widely accepted international legislative principles, enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugee Status and the 1967 Protocol on Refugee Status, according to a note explaining the bill. According to the law, something called 'humanitarian status’ will be written into Georgian legislation. This status will be given on humanitarian grounds to a person who cannot fulfill the necessary requirements to receive refugee status, whilst it’s impossible to return the person to his or her place of permanent residence. After illegally crossing the border, a person seeking for shelter in Georgia will be obliged to apply ...

News

Two die in mining accident

by | November 9, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Two workers died in a coal mine in Tkibuli in west Georgia after a shaft ceiling collapsed Sunday evening. 12 workers have lost their lives in the same mine over the last two years. The collapse led to the death of Bondo Mikheladze (61) and Tamaz Gordadze (55), according to a statement released the following day by operator company Saknakhshiri, a subsidiary of Georgian Industrial Group (GIG). The statement says: “According to preliminary information, the accident was caused by a massive mining concussion.” The cause of most accidents in the mine has been given as negligence by the workers. But the Georgian Trade Union says that it’s really difficult to determine what is causing so many explosions and accidents at the mine. Viktor Dolidze, chief technical inspector of Georgian Trade Union thinks many accidents are really caused by small vibrations. “Small vibrations happen frequently at mines. It’s always very hard to find out what really happened. They usually keep the other defects behind ‘massive concussions’ secret. Safety rules are often violated in the coal mine,” Dolidze says. Tamaz Dolaberidze, leader of the ...

News

Some NGOs ready to cooperate with Ivanishvili

by | November 8, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Some of the Georgian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are ready for a political partnership with the billionaire turned opposition leader who is the main threat against incumbent president Mikheil Saakashvili's rule. On Monday November 7 tens of Tbilisi based NGOs met with Bidzina Ivanishvili, answering his invitation. The meeting lasted for two hours and was held behind closed doors. Afterwards discussion continued as those present pointed out what they see as the main hindrances to a democratic development in the country. At the beginning of the meeting Ivanishvili noted that today it’s most important for society to become active, and he hopes that it will be possible with the NGOs' effort. “We are well aware of today’s situation when authorities resort to violence to terrorize people and to make civil society passive, which to some extent has already been achieved,” Ivanishvili said during his opening comments. “It’s our duty today together with you - and I know you have big experience in this - to manage the activation of civil society and this way weaken the repressive apparatus,” – he went on, ...

News

President gives unconstitutional promise

by | November 8, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Saakashvili promises that the first session in the brand new parliament building in Kutaisi will be held on May 26, 2012. To keep this promise it is necessary to either violate the constitution or change it. The third part of the current constitution, which was amended last year this time, deals with the rules for how parliament functions, its powers and responsibilities. “The parliament’s location is the town of Kutaisi,” this chapter says. “To convene after the summarizing protocol of the results of the next elections has been published by the Central Elections Commission.” This means that parliament’s location until the next election is Tbilisi, and convening in any other place would violate the constitution. Despite this fact, the president states that Parliament’s first session in Kutaisi will be held on May 26, 2012. He made this statement at a meeting with the parliamentary majority. “We all agreed that parliament’s first session will be held in Kutaisi on May 26. Not only one session, but parliament will be ready to hold sessions in Kutaisi,” Mikheil Saakashvili stated at Monday's meeting. This is the second ...

News

No November 7 commemoration today

by | November 7, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Political parties are not planning any commemoration of the events of November 7, 2007. Only the Labor Party had planned a rally which was already underway at 15. But that is held to demand the resignation of president Mikheil Saakashvilli. Former member Nestan Kirtadze calls the event a ‘political adventure’. On November 7, 2007, police forcefully dispersed a peaceful protest camp in front of parliament organized by the opposition. Police also stormed the TV channel Imedi and used force against the journalists while they were live on air. The events of November 7 lead to president Sakashvili temporarily stepping down and scheduling a snap presidential election the following January. The police' actions that day have not been investigated up until today and no charges have been brought to bear on those responsible. At the end of October, the newly formed faction Unity for Justice, a group of opposition parliamentarians, began to study the events of November 2007 and demanded that there is started an investigation with the aim to ‘establish real democracy in the country’ and because there are still ...

Environment, News

Interior minister to handle hydro power resettlement

by | November 7, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The 1970s mega project to build a dam in Khudoni Valley is moving ahead despite obscure funding and secretive implementation. Last week villagers were told they will have to leave. Their resettlement will be planned by an organization founded by Georgia's Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili (pictured). Khudoni would have been the second largest hydro power project in Georgia, after Enguri, Europe's largest. But it was stopped by an environmental campaign over 20 years ago, in which former prime minister Zurab Zhvania played a central role. But the plans have been resurrected in recent years, and in 2009, an Indian-Georgian company called Trans-Electric signed on to a Memorandum of Understanding, which seems to mean that the plans are set to go ahead. In the village Khaishi, Trans-Electric had gathered people November 4 to bring them the sad news: the 200 families who live there will finally have to leave, after three decades living next to the half-completed power station. It will be put into operation in May 2018, 73 months from now, it emerged in a report made by Zviad Tkelidze ...

Elections, News

Delay in electoral roll check

by | November 6, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - As less than a year is left until Georgians will go to the polls again, the government should have been moving ahead with a commission to go through the electoral roll, following a rush law amendment, but as of now the commission has not yet been set up. To have such a commission was part an agreement struck between the Government and part of the opposition last summer, which marked the start of a process to overhaul the whole election system in Georgia ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections in the next two years. A draft was sent to the Venice Commission for final review in the end of August, and the Council of Europe body will give its verdict on the plan December 16 or 17, according to Venice Commission chairman Tomas Markert. Much of the draft includes issues agreed with the part the opposition, including electoral system reform, party financing issues, how to handle disputes in connection with elections. But it also contained some issues which was not agreed with the opposition, such as governors' right to participate ...

News

Russia to become WTO member

by | November 5, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Both Russia and Georgia have given thumbs up for an agreement which will allow Russia to become member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). But experts are asking that  ‘significant details’ be clarified before the treaty is signed. The question of Russia's inclusion into the WTO has become a pressing issue over the last few years. Part of the reason Georgia used its veto power to block membership for was the fact that Russia refused to fulfill the Georgian government’s main request, which was the opening of custom-checkpoints between Russia and Georgia and lift the Russian embargo on Georgian goods which came in the wake of the arrest of four Russian diplomats accused of being spies in 2006. It is not surprising that WTO membership has been important for Russia, taking into consideration how beneficial it would be with a simplified relationship with WTO member countries. Russia is by far the largest economy outside of the WTO, with approximately 1.5 trillion GDP annually, and its entry would mark the biggest step in the liberalization of world trade since China joined ...

Legal reform, News

Public Defender to get more power

by | November 4, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Public Defender in Georgia is to get a more active role in the courts and will also do more monitoring of conditions in social institutions. The slightly increased powers comes following a decision by the government, after a bill was introduced to amend the Law about the Public Defender, prepared by Lasha Tordia, chairman of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee. One of the things it does is that it will allow the ombudsman to perform as what's called Amicus Curiae (‘friend of the court’) also in the Constitutional Court. Until now, he has had this role in the two lower tiers of the court system: the city or district courts and the appeals court. A "friend of the court" means that a person having this right can help people to prepare and present an appeal; consult them and represent him or her in court. Another result of the bill is that the ombudsman will be granted access to monitor certain types of social institutions and shelters. He can enter orphanages, shelters for the elderly and psychiatric facilities. Lasha Tordia who put ...

News

New developments in Georgian power struggle

by | November 4, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - On several fronts the simmering power struggle in the southern Caucasus nation saw new developments Thursday. The fallout from challenger Bidzina Ivanishvili's first ever press conference is continuing, after he spoke on live TV in an unusually freespirited manner for Georgian viewers. One of the shocking statements on November 1 was his account of who started the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Ivanishvili expressed his views in a way which was perceived by the government as an accusation that Georgia was first to begin the war on August 7, 2008. Ivanishvli said that judging by the Tagliavini report and the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) of the Council of Europe the Georgian side started the war. The Georgian government considers this statement a lie serving Russian interests. On Thursday, Ivanishvili’s press office released a response that based on the Tagliavini report and the PACE resolution, which was signed by the Georgian delegation, taken together both documents say that the start of the war was August 7, 2008, ‘when Georgian troops opened fire without warning in the direction of Tskhinvali [Georgia’s ...

News

Ivanishvili broadens base

by | November 3, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian challenger Bidzina Ivanishvili is extending a hand to the whole spectrum of opposition parties, promising to cooperate with all of them in order to remove the ruling party from power. At the November 1 press conference he was asked whether he is going to cooperate with all parties. “We will cooperate with every force. But cooperation doesn’t mean union,” he added. This signals a shift in strategy which seems an attempt at gathering all forces which are against the sitting president. In his open letter which launched his campaign three weeks ago, the financier ruled out cooperation with several opposition parties for various reasons, including the Christian Democrats and the New Rights party. Those parts of the opposition were offended by his letter at the time, but welcome his latest statements and are ready to cooperate with him, given on the right kind of circumstances. Levan Vepkhvadze of the Christian Democrats says Ivanishvili changed his positions about cooperating with opposition parties and this is a good background for cooperation. But he also adds that there are still some unclear issues, and ...

News

Journalist disciplined for asking wrong question

by | November 3, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A journalist working for Georgia's Public Broadcaster (GPB) is under threat of being dismissed for asking a question the government didn't like at Bidzina Ivanishvili’s press conference Tuesday. The reason was that he asked a question which the broadcaster's leadership thinks is an admission that their journalists are instructed by the government about what questions to ask. DFWatch have this from a source within the public broadcaster who has asked us not to divulge the person's identity out of fear that it might also lead to him or her being dismissed. At the press conference two days ago, Irakli Tabliashvili asked a question about Georgian troops’ participation in the ISAF operation in Afghanistan. As he was about to get to his question, Tabliashvili prephrased it with the phrase: “I represent the Public Broadcaster, but I assure you that I don’t have ‘instructed question.’ I’m interested in what the public is interested in.” Then he went on to ask what Ivanishvili thinks about the Georgian contingent participating in ISAF. What triggered the disciplinary action was that the GPB leadership didn't like how he ...

News

Another ‘collection of dreams’

by | November 2, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Government of Georgia has presented a ‘ten-point plan for the country’s development of modernization and employment for the years 2011-2015’, but experts think it's no more than a ‘collection of dreams’ that is hard to take seriously without concrete steps towards its implementation. “The Georgian government’s social-economic policy aim is to create the background for a successful, wealthy and united Georgia, where every citizen will be provided with decent living conditions and will have an opportunity to become a rich and successful member of the world’s civil society.” This is how the new document describes the aim of the plan, and the government is planning to achieve it by ‘creating places of employment and decreasing unemployment; and improving the social assistance system for disabled.” The ten points listed in the plan are: 1. Macro-economic stability; 2. Improvement of the current account balance; 3. Creating/keeping best environment for business and investment; 4. To form a regional trade and logistics center; 5. Improving infrastructure; 6. Agricultural development; 7. Improvement of the education system ; 8. Development of social policy; 9. ...

News

Government strengthens financial monitoring

by | November 1, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Experts here in Tbilisi think the government is ‘trying to find legislative methods to put pressure on Ivanishvili’, following a government initiative about strengthening financial monitoring under the pretext of combating money laundering. Amendments will be made to the law called Anti-Money Laundering Support. The initiators are ruling party parliamentarians Zviad Kukava, Andro Alavidze and Mikheil Tskitishvili. The bill defines what is considered a suspicious transaction. According to the today’s legislation, any arrangement despite transaction type and money amount is considered a ‘suspicious transaction’ if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the ‘transaction was signed or implemented with an aim to finance terrorism.’ The bill envisages that a person who ends up being categorized as sponsoring terrorism should be included onto a list of terrorists or persons who support terrorism, or people connected with them. Under the new bill a new record will be created over ‘property (including money assets) obtained or derived by criminal means on the basis of a signed or implemented transaction.’ The bill also considers restricting of number of regulations. But parliament has yet been unable to discuss ...

News

“I will impeach president Saakashvili”

by | November 1, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch- Bidzina Ivanishvili vows to initiate impeachment procedures against Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili after he has won the parliamentary election next year. The businessman made the statement Tuesday at his first and long awaited press conference. It took place in his luxurious Tbilisi business center in the front of nearly 230 Georgian reporters and local stringers for Western media. “Even though Saakashvili has made the constitution perfectly fit his own interests; when we enter parliament as a majority we will immediately begin to discuss his impeachment if he doesn’t proceed to resign,” Ivanishvili said, answering a question about how he is going to work together with Saakashvili, taking into consideration the fact that Saakashvili is going to be president for one more year after the parliamentary election, set for October 2012. Next presidential election is to be held in 2013. At today’s rather noisy meeting where journalists were literally fighting to ask their questions, Ivanishvili discussed his views on Russia and Georgia’s future relationships with this country. He has previously said that Georgia has to find its right place and have relations both ...

News

Diplomat claims dismissal was political

by | November 1, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia's honorary consul in the United States says the reason he was dismissed last week was that he refused to take down photos from his Facebook page showing the popular opposition politician Bidzina Ivanishvili meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Georgia. Just four months ago, Lasha Darbaidze was the subject of praise on a TV show called Imedi Heroes, aired on one of Tbilisi's government friendly TV stations. The laudatory portrait concluded that he was carrying out his Washington duties graciously. But like others who have expressed support for a new political contender in the last few weeks, his luck suddenly changed. First his Georgian citizenship was revoked, then he was dismissed from his post as Honorary Consul. Mr Darbaidze has explained that the reason for his dismissal was that he had published a picture of the government’s main opponent on his Facebook page and refused to remove it when prompted by an unnamed person he believes was working for authorities in Tbilisi. He calls the October 24 dissmissal 'political persecution'. But from Tbilisi, the story is different. The government claims ...

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