News, Society

Does the road to peace go through tasty food?

by | October 18, 2011

Can the Caucasus region be united through good taste? That was one of the questions as food producers from all over the region gathered in Tbilisi for a peace festival over the weekend, with the aim of building peace and develop food business in the Caucasus region. Various types of tea, cheese, wine and honey from different regions were on display both for the eye's and the tongue's satisfaction. Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani tea-growers, beekeepers, wine and cheese makers gathered in the downtown old district of Tbilisi to share ideas and discuss, examine and present their products. The main aim of the festival was to present Caucasian brands; products which are made within the scope of cooperation in the Caucasus - Caucasian wine, tea, honey and cheese. Representatives of each brand presented theire products and after tasting, people shared their opinion about which product was better. Many tourists also attended the festival. Oskar Pentikainen, senior programm officer for Eurasia at the organization International Alert says that this festival is more about building peace than economic profit or doing business. According to him, there are always problems when ...

News

Saakashvili dodges freedom of information requirement

by | October 17, 2011

The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has decided to make his people pay for accessing public documents. Like in most Western countries, Georgia has a law guaranteeing citizens free and unfettered access to public information. But now the leader has made it a little bit harder for people to find out about just what authorities are up to. The reason they can do this is that the right to free, as in unpaid, access to information only applies to state institutions, not their subsidiaries. Seizing on this opportunity, the Georgian president has simply decided to create a new archive under his Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), technically, a private archive. Going by the country's laws when it comes to such private subsidiaries of state bodies, the new arhcive's services should require payment. Therefore getting access to the ministry's documents will be a paid service. Gia Tsagareishvili, Free Democrats parliamentarian and chairman of the newly formed faction Unity for Justice, thinks the reason the president made such a decision is to make it harder for people to get access to information. “Firstly, it is not defined why ...

News

Financier’s citizenship ends up in court

by | October 16, 2011

The financier Bidzina Ivanishvili has decided to go to court in order to get back his citizenship which was taken from him right after he announced he would use his considerable wealth and influence to challenge the ruling party's grip over the country. “We made a decision to file the lawsuit with the court against the president, and request it to repeal decree number 602 signed by him,” reads a statement from Ivanishvili's lawyer Eka Beselia, a well-known opposition figure. When the Georgian Civil Registry stripped the financier of his citizenship, it effectively meant that he was barred from getting involved in politics. Since taking on the job of representing him less than a week ago Beselia has vigorously challenged the legality of the decision, but until today held back from saying this would end up in court. One of the crucial issues was whether president Saakashvili had issued a decree, and if so, when. Saturday, lawyer Eka Beselia told media they had been shown the presidential decree, and it is dated October 11. The document revokes the citizenship of Georgia’s richest and ...

News

Georgian tycoon gathers support

by | October 15, 2011

In Georgia, a businessman who one week ago set out to unseat president Mikheil Saakashvili is quickly gathering supporters while the small Caucasus nation is eagerly awaiting his TV appearance. One of the country's most well-known literary figures, Chabua Amirejibi, as well as a well-known fotballer, have thrown their support behind the financier. Since releaseing his declaration October 7 Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili has been the center of attention from both Georgian and international media who want to know what he has in mind with his plan to spend his fortune on removing Saakashvili from power. Two small cable channels and the state broadcaster have been in negotiations with the tycoon about having a live broadcast so he could explain to Georgians what his plans are. He received his first proposal from the Georgian Public Broadcaster, and then from the two Tbilisi based stations Maestro and Kavkazia, which Ivanishvili accused of being in league with Saakashvili. Both channels want to have him on live so he can talk to the nation and have a chance to explain why after years of leading a near ...

Elections, Legal reform, News

Groups boycott right-to-vote reform

by | October 15, 2011

Three rights groups refuse to take part in a new system meant to guarantee every Georgian the right to vote, because they think the reform may make things worse. Parliament has just decided to establish a new system for going through the voters rolls and make sure that every citizen who has a right to vote is on the list, and no-one else. But three organizations think the new arrangement won't be good enough and will boycott its work. Every past election has been plagued by mistakes on the voter's roll which some think are made deliberate to manipulate the outcome. The new system was supposed to guarantee every citizen the right to vote, following criticism from the Council of Europe. But three rights group are skeptical.  Tamar Chugoshvili, chairman of Georgian Young Lawyer's Association (GYLA) doesn’t rule out that the voters' roll will be even more plagued by mistakes than it is today.   The groups think despite being plagued by problems, it would be better to keep the old system and have the new commission only as a supplement.   Under the new system, ...

News, Security

Troop replacement in Afghanistan

by | October 15, 2011

Georgia's light infantry Battalion #31 has just left for Afghanistan. It consists of 749 soldiers and will replace Battalion #33. The troop Georgian replacement takes place within the framework of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation in the country. The Georgian peacekeeping battalion will carry out its mission alongside American troops in Helmand province. They will be involved in an operation together with US marines which will last for six months. This is the second troop replacement for battalion #31. According to Georgia's Defense Ministry, the battalion has had a six-month intensive pre-deployment training before participating in the peacekeeping operation. The Georgian soldiers were preparing for the operation under the the guidance of the United States' Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group. They studied defense, requisition, clearance and containment, as well as convoy operations, evacuation procedures of the wounded and relations with leaders and inhabitants. Since April 2010 Georgian troops’ third infantry brigade’s battalion #31’s 749 soldiers has been stationed in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan, according to the Ministry’s official data. The battalion has been performing the full spectrum of operations ...

News

Tskhinvali weighs in on Georgian financier’s revelations

by | October 14, 2011

A top official working for the regime in Tskhinvali says he agrees with revelations the financier Bidzina Ivanishvili put forth in a lengthy open letter published Wednesday as part of his effort to unseat president Saakashvili and give the country back to its people. A close advisor to so-called South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoiti told the RES news agency today that he can confirm Ivanishvili's shocking accusations against one of president Saakashvili's closest associates. According to the Georgian financier, one year prior to the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Saakashvili confidance Giga Bokeria wanted to attack the South Ossetian city Tskhinvali, arguing that the Russian peacekeepers there would not put up a fight. But Ivanishvili, who seems to have been present at the meeting, alongside other in Saakashvili's inner circle, managed to dissuade Bokeria, and the plan was cancelled. Today Boris Chochiev said he can confirm that Georgia had been planning an attack on South Ossetia not only in 2004 and 2008, but also in 2006, and had been preparing his own personal plan for how to regain the lost territory, a plan going ...

News

Georgian soldier dies in accident

by | October 14, 2011

A 19 year old Georgian soldier has been killed in an what appears to be an accident at a base in Zugdidi, a town on the Black Sea coast near the border with Abkhazia. The accident took place at a base for the paramilitary forces of Georgia's Ministry of Internal Affairs. At the Interior Ministry's Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Regional Department a spokesman told DFWatch Giorgi Getiashvili's death was an accident but they do not know the details. The Kakheti based news agency Ick.ge reported that a bullet accidentally hit the soldier's eye and killed him on the spot, citing sources at the unit where the man was serving. A criminal investigation has been launched. The soldier had been serving his compulsory military service since August 2011.

News

Billionaire’s citizenship was unlawfully revoked, lawyer says

by | October 13, 2011

The stripping of a businessman's citizenship right after he made a dramatic call to remove Mikheil Saakashvili from power moved one step closer to turning into a legal battle Thursday, as Bidzina Ivanishvili's lawyer presented five documents said to prove that Georgia was breaking the law when revoking his citizenship. "We request a clear and specific explanation of the legal acts on what basis and in what legal aspects did the government decide that Ivanishvili is not Georgian citizen," reads the statement written by Eka Beselia, a lawyer and well-known opposition figure. Many had assumed that taking away the financier's citizenship was a political decisin meant to prevent him from entering politics. But on Wednesday, the Civil Registry's spokesperson asserted that it was a purly technical decision, as a response to new information provided by Mr Ivanishvili himself in the declaration which started it all on October 7. Giorgi Vashadze, chairman of the Civil Registry Agency on Wednesday released a statement explaining the reason for terminating the citizenship. All citizens have equal rights and obligations and everyone is equal under thelaw, his short ...

Elections, Legal reform, News

CoE to Georgia: No more surprises, please

by | October 13, 2011

Two observers from the Council of Europe (CoE) have asked Georgia's ruling party to stop coming up with surprise changes in a draft law without going through the normal democratic procedures. At least according to one of the opposition politicians, two rapporteurs from the Monitoring Committee of the CoE's Parliamentary Assembly asked Georgia's ruling party to stick to what has been agreed with other politicial factions and not go it alone. "They think that if there is an attitude that we want to agree on the document, then there must not occur non-coordinated issues," Mamuka Katsitadze, a member of the New Rights party told DFWatch after a meeting with the rapporteurs. Georgia has been reworking its entire election system since 2010, after being criticized by the CoE for shortcomings. President Saakashvili's party entered into talks with the opposition, but most of them left the talks. After a deal was struck with two factions, the ruling party changed the draft without consulting anyone. The rapporteurs who were here on a working visit focused on the election system in general, but particularly the issue of how ...

Media, News, Politics

Georgian media answers hopeful patron

by | October 12, 2011

Journalists Wednesday responded to the wealthiest Georgian Bidzina Ivanishvili's call for them to form an alliance to unseat Mikheil Saakashvili, while experts debated whether Georgia had the right to revoke his citizenship. Tuesday night, the tycoon-turned-politicians had the support of at least the viewers, if not the staff, of two small cable TV stations which have become central to one of the world's richest men's attempt at removing Mikheil Saakashvili from power. On the channel Kavkazia, 91% of viewers voted that the decision to revoke Ivanishvili's citizenship was unlawful. Alsmost exactly the same percentage voted similarly on an almost identical question on the sister cable channel Maestro. But the administration and staff at the two independent TV stations are measured in their responses to the entices from the tycoon to form an alliance, in order to return Georgia to its people. "Maestro's cooperation with Ivanishvili, Mikheil Saakashvili, Putin, and Obama and with everyone is real: who will finance us? Maestro is grateful for all money that isn't acquired illegally, we are ready to cooperate,"  Mamuka Glonti, co-owner of Maestro, told the Georgian online newspaper ...

News

“Resign. You are exhausted, Misha”

by | October 12, 2011

“Stop, Misha, you are standing on the edge of the abyss, stop!” was the fincier Bidzina Ivanishvili's message to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili Wednesday. As the financier, who is one of the world's richest, released his second statement on a mission to unseat the Georgian leader, he clarified his position towards the different oppositional groups in the country, as well as how he envisages to involve one independent TV station in his cause. The lengthy letter touches on a number of encounters he appearantly has had with top officials in the Georgian government, as well as his own characterizations of key players among the people immediately surrounding the president, which he calls the leading "group". Especially subject to Mr Ivanishvili's scrutiny is the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vano Merabishvili. Directly addressing Vano Merabishvili, the businessman says he has exposed Giga Chrdileli, the director of Kartu Group as being on of the his ministry's agents. “I know that you and all the government are really surprised of later hearing about my decision of coming into politics,” Ivanishvili writes, directly addressing Merabishvili. “I’ve used the free ‘services’ of ...

News, Politics

Georgia bars billionaire from entering politics

by | October 12, 2011

The authorities in Georgia have stripped the country's richest man of his citizenship, just as he was preparing to launch a new opposition movement aimed at unseating president Mikheil Saakashvili in elections the coming two years. Revoking Bidzina Ivanishvili's citizenship effectively means that he can't legally take part in political activities nor fund political parties, nor run in elections in the country. The ramifications of this are yet to be seen. The decision came in the form of a letter from the Civil Registry which terminates Ivanishvili's Georgian citizenship. Lawyers DFWatch has spoken to do not see any legal inaccuracies in the statement but say the businessman can appeal to the president and there are no legal grounds for  rejecting such a request. Meanwhile, the government has started talking about Ivanishvili's connections with Russia.   "If [a presidential] decree exists, it should be published; on the other hand, without such a decree the citizenship cannot be terminated. So we can assume that Ivanishvili’s citizenship is not terminated” --Kahka Kojoridze, Georgian Young Lawyer's Association   The essence of the Civil Registry's letter is that he had already been ...

News

Unemployment Georgians’ biggest worry

by | October 11, 2011

Two thirds of Georgians think of themselves as unemployed. Living conditions are so dire that the question of territorial integrity has become secondary. But Georgians still welcome the government’s reforms, National Democratic Institute (NDI) Georgia director Luis Navaro said as he met journalists to present the results of a fresh survey. The three top priorities for people living in the southern Caucasus nation are jobs, rising prices and the country’s territorial integrity, according to Navarro. What's new since last poll six months ago is that the number of people concerned about living standard has increased, replacing the question of territorial integrity as a top worry. When it comes to the capital, employment takes the top slot, followed by the question of attaching a waste handling tax on electricity bills in Tbilisi. The issue of kinder gardens also ranks highly among what Tbilisians are thinking about these days. Two thirds of the Georgian population consider themselves unemployed. The number of unemployed women is particularly high. Looking at how this pans out over the different age groups, middle-aged people has the highest percentage who consider themselves ...

Media, News

TV channels vying for financier’s political debut

by | October 11, 2011

The public broadcaster and two independent TV stations are competing to carry the political debut of Georgia's richest man. First, the public broadcaster released a statement saying it invites the Georgian billionaire on to their Channel 1 to answer the questions from journalists. The financier had asked before the weekend to be let on the channel. “Ivanishvili requested to speak on the Public Broadcaster. Naturally, the broadcaster has not refused this request,” the statement reads. “A meeting was held today between the spokesman of Ivanishvili and the general director of the public broadcaster. The broadcaster reiterated that is ready to let the businessman have air time in a talk show format.” The exact format is yet to be agreed, but Bidzina Ivanishvili is ready to answer journalists's questions in any format, according to a statement published October 8 by his spokesman. The public broadcaster however only wants to let him on in one of their three talk shows. “We offer one of the three talk show formats. Now he and we must be satisfied with the formats that are currently available in the Public ...

Legal reform, News

Competition watchdog must do more with same budget

by | October 10, 2011

Government wants to reform the antimonopoly service and give it new tasks. But its budget is to stay the same next year. Experts think it's doubtful whether there will be any real change in how the service operates, which the European Union is demanding from Georgia. A well-functioning antimonopoly service is the most important among several conditions to be met before negotiations can start to sign a free trade agreement between the EU and Georgia. That was the reason the government decided to establish the service in Spring 2010. At first, the service was set up but its functions were not defined. The government then promised that a special bill would be worked out in the near future. Only now has this condition been met by the draft new law on Free Trade and Competition now awaiting review by parliament. The draft is quite long, and outlines the functions of this service and what areas will be regulated. “The Law defines the principles of protection from unlawful restraint of free and fair competition. This creates the basis for the development of free trade ...

News, Politics

Grassroots movement welcomes financier’s entry into politics

by | October 9, 2011

After being rejected by the journalists of Maestro TV, financier Bidzina Ivanishvili's has found new allies in the anti-Saakashvili grassroots movement behind last May's demonstrations. The People's Assembly in a statement says Ivanishvili represents a fresh, new start to Georgian politics, and that his program fully matches the goals of the assembly. People's Assembly is a movement spearheaded by chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili, and was the organizing factor behind Georgia's attempt at reproducing the Arab uprisings. The protests peaked in May with the deadly police action in front of parliament which took four lives and scores of injured. Nearly fifty people are imprisoned, some serving sentences of up to 12 years, after participating in the protests. The clashes made yet a dent in president Saakashvili's democratic credentials. Human Rights Watch and other groups have pointed out a number of transgressions by Georgian servicemen during the crack-down, justified by the president out of a need to send a signal to the Kremlin because the demonstrators in his opinion were infiltrated by agents working for Russian military intelligence. "According to our view, Ivanishvili represents a new, ...

News, Security

Three detained Georgians released

by | October 9, 2011

South Ossetia Sunday released three Georgians who were charged of illegally crossing the so-called state border, Kavkaz Uzel reported. The three Georgian citizens Gaioz Gulitashvili, Murad Macharashvili and Vaja Sauri were arrested near the villages Perevi and Medjvriskhevi north west of Tskhinvali while out working on their fields on October, 5. They had been detained for three days. “You have just crossed the border, they told me before arresting me,” one of the released told Georgia's public broadcaster, First Channel. “I had not crossed the border, I told them. It’s my territory, my cornfield. We’ll find out it later, they told me and took me.” After being handed over to Georgian law enforcers, the three were interrogated and then allowed to return home. The same day as they were detained, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested the so-called South Ossetian authorities to immediately release the three. In a statement about this latest incident, Georgia and the United States expressed "concern over the illegal detention of so-called border violations by residents adjacent to the administrative border with the Tskhinvali region areas," the online news agency reports. On ...

News, Politics

Georgia’s richest to launch opposition movement

by | October 8, 2011

The financier Bidzina Ivanishvili is satisfied so far with the impact he has had, after announcing he would challenge the ruling party in the next election by founding a new party and buying a TV station. According to his press secratary, Irakli Tripolsky, Ivanishvili’s first statement "caused deep resonance in the society". Next step will be another statement to be published on October 12. ‘Bidzina Ivanishvili will release one more address to the Georgian society on 12 October. The address will clearly define his attitude to various political actors, media outlets and political institutions’, Tripolsky said. Two days later Ivanishvili is willing to go on Georgia's public broadcaster to answer journalists’s questions. Irakli Tripolsky used to be chairman of the board of trustees at the public broadcaster, but left in 2008, saying he didn't want to be held hostage to the ruling party. But the chairman of the broadcaster told Interpressnews he wasn't informed that the financier wants to come on their channel.   Total control The Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili Friday launched a new political party by puiblishing a statement strongly attacking President Mikheil Saakashvili. Free business no longer ...

Media, News

Investor-politician gets cold shoulder from Georgian media

by | October 8, 2011

The billionaire businessman who said he would run in the next election has received a cold shoulder from two independent TV stations he said he wants to buy. Bidzina Ivanishvili's extensive written statement about his political goals, which was published on Friday October 7, focuses particular attention on Georgian television. While criticizing President Saakashvili's regime, Ivanishvili emphasizes that all the president is doing would have been impossible without total control over the media. "All media including Maestro and Kavkazia are controlled by Saakashvili. They are special-purpose pseudo-oppositional channels," the statement says. Their broadcasting cover only Tbilisi, and people in the capital clearly know what is the real situation and for the president there is no significant negative impact from what these channels will do, according to Ivanishvili's statement. It goes on to state that the channels have a special purpose: "They are a platform where a pseudo or real opposition has an opportunity to regularly express their position and voice their criticism of Saakashvili. Along with politicans, the aggrieved, poor citizens are able to take part in criticizing the government via telephone and ...

News, World

French President greeted by astroturf crowd

by | October 7, 2011

President Nicolas Sarkozy finally arrived in Tbilisi Friday from Baku. It was the final stop on his tour of the South Caucasus. Security was tight around Freedom Square. People who wanted to attend the event had to arrive two hours earlier. The square had been decorated with French, Georgian and EU flags for the occasion. In the afternoon, Sarkozy made an outdoor speech just after President Saakashvili had addressed people who were gathered inside the cordoned-off area. The crowd had been growing since noon and counted a few thousand. Some came in a coloumn of yellow buses driving down Rustaveli Avenue. The buses were bringing people from faraway regions of Georgia, as well as various districts of the capital. Maestro TV reported that the crowds were bussed in from as far away as Poti, a city on the Black Sea coast. They had all expenses paid, and the operation seemed well planned. TV footage showed organizers hushing them onto the buses, working by name lists. "Look what they've made us do. I was not meant to be here now, today. I work in metro station ...

News, World

Sarkozy to Georgia: more reforms needed

by | October 7, 2011

French president Nicolas Sarkozy told Georgians Friday that the country must strengthen democracy through further reforms if it wants to move closer to EU membership. A few thousand people were in or around Freedom Square in the center of Tbilisi while Sarkozy held his speech this afternoon but many seemed uninterested and left before he even took the stage. "Continuing to develop a strategy for developing reforms is your best tool for convincing the EU that Georgia is a European country," the French leader said. "Internal reform and a strategy of openness is the best chance to convince the populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that their future is as a companion at Georgia's side, in an open country, not as isolated and enslaved pseudo-states," he said. In the speech, Sarkozy reaffirmed France's support for Georgia's territorial integrity and right to seek membership in Nato. His call on Georgia and Russia to reconcile was met with silence from the crowd. Sarkozy is struggling in the polls ahead of France's presidential election next spring. His Caucasus tour is seen as an attempt to cash in on past ...

Legal reform, News

Confusion over parliament’s first session in Kutaisi

by | October 6, 2011

There is rising confusion after President Saakashvili said that the first parliamentary session in Kutaisi will be on the next national day, May 26, 2012. He said this two days ago at the opening of a new House of Justice in the city. But according to the Georgian constitution, parliament can only convene in Kutaisi after the results of the next parliamentary elections have been announced. Those elections are slated for October 2012. The parliamentary majority has a different interpretation of the president's speech. But constitutionalists claim there are clear indications that a May session would be in breach of the law. When it was decided to move parliament to Kutaisi, the decision was highly criticized, and analysts had different explanations for why the president did it. But the decision is already made, and what is important now is how it will be accomplished. A previous draft of the constitution gave both Tbilisi and Kutaisi as location of parliament. If it had not been altered, this statement by the president would not have caused such turmoil. The thing is that a few months ago ...

Legal reform, News

New law may restrict consumers’ rights in Georgia

by | October 6, 2011

Parliament is to consider a new law about product safety which might require scrapping an old law, and a big chunk of the country's consumer rights with it. The new bill is called "Code on Product Safety and Free Flow" which envisages to set up a special commission to monitor product safety in the market. "This would all have been fine, if it hadn't been for the fact that the new law requires the repeal of the Consumers Rights Protection Law," says Lika Todua, food safety project officer at the organization Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia (CSRDG). "Several really important rights of consumer will be lost." According to Tudua, the new law provides product safety, but the product quality is neglected. This was regulated by the Consumers Rights law. She explains that the aim of the bill is to bring legislation in line with international standards, and it would have done so, if it didn't abrogate an old law. There are several important issues in the new law which will damage consumers's interests. One is that the law has a narrow definition of ...

News

Prosecutors given new powers to check money transfers

by | October 5, 2011

Prosecutors in Georgia will get powers to monitor suspicious money transfers before they are carried out. But this will require a court warrant. Parliament’s decision means that after getting a court's approval, the prosecutor's office can ask that a bank account be subject to a strict control regime: every time there is a transfer to the account, information about the transfer must first be sent to the the prosecutor. All of this will happen without the account holder's knowledge. The government explains the decision with the need to combat money laundering. The opposition says that it’s made with elections in mind, in order to control political parties. Following Parliament's decision, a completely new section will be added to Georgia's Criminal Procedure Code, a law which regulates the rights and duties of the police and prosecutor in the early stages of an investigation: “If there are reasonable [grounds for] suspicion that a criminal act is carried out using a bank account, the prosecutor is entitled, with the help of the Chief Prosecutor or his deputy, according to the place of investigation, to ask the court ...

Legal reform, News

Georgian government to boost civil society

by | October 5, 2011

The Georgian government is to start handing out funds to select players in the whole non-public sector, after a decision in parliament. Power to hand out money will reside with ministries. The effort is not limited to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but may also include educational institutions and branch offices of foreign think tanks as well as private Georgian citizens. The bill was prepared by parliamentarians Zviad Kukava and Kakha Anjaparidze, whose stated aim of changing the Law on Grants is to enhance support for the whole non-public sector. But commentators DFWatch spoke to say that while it is important to support the NGOs, they fear that in a country with authoritarian features, such a measure may be used to assert influence. Whereas the decision about giving grants will lie at the ministry level, according to the new law, the government will have an opportunity to get information about the aim of giving the grant, the amount of funds and consult a preliminary estimate, before it formally commits public money to the NGO. While giving the central government a final say about releasing money, another ...

Media, News

Journalists take Georgian police to court over May 26 beating

by | October 4, 2011

Three journalists and four media companies filed an administrative lawsuit at Tbilisi city court Tuesday morning against Georgia's Ministry of Internal Affairs, asking to be compensated for the injuries they sustained in the night of May 26, when police violently dispersed a protest rally ahead of an Independence Day parade. The journalists presented the court with a list of ten witnesses they say can confirm that police beat them and damaged their equipment in the tumultous night and ask to be compensated for the financial loss they have suffered as a result of damage to property and health damage. The complainants are journalists Tazo Kupreishvili and Konstantine Stalinski from Netgazeti.ge, and Nato Gogelia from Guria News agency. Also part of the claim are the media units Newspaper Batumelebi Ltd, Chokhatauri Messenger Ltd, News Ltd and Radio Centre Plus Ltd. At today's preparatory meeting the judge accepted the plaintiffs' request to let the ten witnesses testify when the trial starts, witnesses they say will confirm the fact that the journalists had their cameras taken and were beaten by police. The claimants showed the judge video ...

Elections, Europe, Legal reform, News, Politics

Political Tbilisi skeptical to proposed new election system

by | October 3, 2011

Work to improve the Georgian election environment has ended as a draft has been sent off to the Council of Europe's Venice Commission for review and the government promises that parliament will not start its review until the results of the review are clear. It's hard to say what the Venice Commission's conclusions will be and how well the government has anticipated its remarks. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have already criticized the amendments to the draft law. In their view, this project does not include many substantive changes to improve the election environment. On the contrary, some sections make the situation even worse than it is today; or the vagueness of some regulations make it impossible to understand the different formulations. Last year when talks began to change the election law, it was said that reforms were needed in several areas: More transparency in the election itself, the monitoring process, changes regarding the handling og voters's lists, the election system, use of administrative resources, election financing, election administration, election disputes and sanctions for violations of the election law. The draft sent to the ...

News

Rush law amendment is to limit property rights

by | October 2, 2011

Owners of derelict or abandoned buildings in Georgia may have their property taken from them under a new bill which is being rushed through parliament. The law change will encroach on property rights guaranteed by the Georgian constitution. Owners of buildings will be required to complete the construction within a certain period, as envisaged in the new law. Otherwise they will be fined, and if they fail to pay the bill, their property will be taken from them. "Sanctions will only be enforced in areas where it is not permissible to let half-ruined buildings be left standing," parliamentarian Kakhaber Anjaparidze said in an interview with Radio Liberty. Anjaparidze co-authored the new law together with Andro Alavidze and Vakhtang Balavadze. "Mostly it will be in central districts. Owners of the buildings will be given some time to obtain construction permission and restore or complete the construction," he told the radio station.   "Sanctions will only be enforced in areas where it is not permissible to let half-ruined buildings be left standing," -- Kakhaber Anjaparidze, co-author of law amendment   Owners will have six months to obtain such ...

Elections, Europe, Legal reform, News

Ruling party’s latest election law maneuver a setback for democracy

by | October 2, 2011

Three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are seriously concerned after the government's sudden changes to the draft for a new election law. Now that rights advocates have had time to look closer at the changes, which were worked out behind everyone's backs and revealed a week ago, their conclusion is that this is a disappointment to everyone who had been hoping for freer and fairer elections in Georgia. "The new changes to the Electoral Code do not improve the electoral process at all," Tamar Chugoshvili, chairman of Georgian Young Lawyer's Association, said as three NGOs presented their conclusions at Radisson Hotel Tbilisi on Friday. "On the contrary, the changes make the election process unclear," she said.   "The government won't be able to sell the changes as a part of the agreement with the opposition" --Mamuka Katsitadze, New Rights Party   Talks to change the election law started last year to accomodate critique from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. But most opposition parties dropped out of the talks, and the government finally reached an agreement with only two opposition factions. Then the draft was sent off to ...

News, Politics

Workers forced to renounce rights

by | September 27, 2011

Support is mounting for the three imprisoned metallurgy workers in Kutaisi. According to their labor union, they have been forced to sign a statement promising to never again go on strike. The appearant violation of their basic human rights had brought nearly thirty non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to Kutaisi Monday to show support for the three, who work at the city's metallurgical plant. "Today’s protest is a show of solidarity with people who didn’t even have any political demands," said Aslan Lortkipanidze, chairman of The Union of Independent Experts, an Adjarian NGO. "They are in jail just because they fought for their labor rights."   "This misconduct must be immediately investigated and certain individuals punished"  -- Tamar Chugoshvili, Georgian Young Lawyer's Association   Kutaisi is Georgia's second largest city, 200 km west of the capital, Tbilisi. Workers at the plant have been pressuring to improve their conditions since summer, but on 15 September their strike was forcefully broken up by police. Three days later, three of the striking workers were arrested and sentenced to ten days in prison. Supporters massed in the city on Monday to demand an ...

Media, News

Gate crashing the President’s vineyard

by | September 27, 2011

The reason journalist Shalva Ramishvili wanted to get into Mikheil Saakashvili's vineyard on Sunday was that the president was hosting a number of other TV journalists there. Georgian TV viewers have become accustomed to these events, which are often broadcast live on several of the national channels, all of which are widely believed to be under the control of the government, though this has proven hard to ascertain. Investigative reporters revealed that when the president held one of his live broadcasts in a village in the Sachkhere region near South Ossetia, in which he celebrated the completion of a new water supply which would let children swim in a new swimming pool, in fact the water supply had not been completed, and the water flowing from the tap had been brought up to the village in fire trucks only temporarily filling the reservoir. This report was shown on Maestro TV, which has called into question the truthfulness of a number of Mr Saakashvili's TV events. On Sunday the president had gathered journalists at his country estate nead the village Kvareli, 140 km west of ...

News

TV-crew detained in President’s vineyard

by | September 26, 2011

Police Sunday arrested the well-known Georgian journalist Shalva Ramishvili and his crew in president Saakashvili’s vineyard. Ramishvili was just done shooting footage for his TV show "Without Accreditation" in the president's vineyard in Kvareli, a village 140 km west of the capital Tbilisi when regional police and officers from state security appeared and confiscated all the equipment. The officers detained the crew and brought them to a nearby police station.   "They realized that our detention was groundless" -- Shalva Ramishvili, TV journalist   Twenty minutes after their detention, both journalist and cameramen were released. "They realized that our detention was groundless," Shalva Ramishvili said during a phone interview on Maestro TV Sunday. "There could be a scandal, and so they released us and returned part of our equipment, but without all the footage." No one warned the journalist not to enter the President’s property. DF Watch tried, but was unable to get a comment from the Ministry of Interior Sunday evening in connection with this story. "Without Accreditation" is a gonzo style political satire program aired on Maestro TV, a small independent cable channel available mainly in Tbilisi and ...

News

Revenue Service halts tax audit of Palitra Holding “indefinitely”

by | September 23, 2011

Georgia's revenue service has suspended the tax audit of Palitra Holding, one of Georgia’s largest media groups. The Revenue Service’s order, dated September 18, does not give any reason for the suspension. The GRS had only nine days left to complete their inspection when they suspended it "indefinitely", after extending the deadline twice in three months. It was on June 7 the news broke that the Georgian tax inspection had physically sealed off the premises of all Palitra Holding’s six divisions an initiated a full check-up of the company. The step was seen by many as politically motivated. Other Georgian newspapers quickly voiced their solidarity with Palitra in connection with the audit. The deadline was extended twice, but it was finally to have been completed by September 29.   "It could mean that the results of the whole inspection process is undesirable for them" -- Levan Kalandadze, economic analyst   "The reason for the suspension is the process of summarizing data,” Ana Gogichadze, spokesperson for the Revenue Service's PR department, said at a press conference. She did not specify why an indefinite period is needed for the ...

Elections, Legal reform, News, Politics

Government introduces surprise changes in new election law

by | September 23, 2011

After reaching a hard-fought agreement with several opposition parties, the ruling party has introduced significant changes in the draft for a new Georgian Election Code. According to lawmakers, the eleventh-hour changes were only made in order to ensure a democratic election environment in the country, however many opposition parties remain skeptical. Some of the changes in the draft were made due to recommendations tabled last year by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs. The latest draft is already sent to the Commission for another round of review. Work to reform the election process began in October 2010 with talks between a coalition of opposition parties and the ruling National Movement party, but in the end, the ruling party managed to strike an agreement only with two out of eight opposition groups.   "There is no point in discussing things in an editorial group if the government continues with such surprises"  -- Levan Vepkhvadze, Christian Democrat party   The agreement envisages nine basic changes which will come into force in time for the parliamentary elections in 2012. Eight of them were ...

News

President defends 26 May dispersal: ‘we have improved since 2007’

by | September 19, 2011

President Saakashvili maintains that the deadly police action last May was necessary.President Mikheil Saakashvili has no regrets about issuing the order which led to the police clearing the area in front of parliament the night before the Independence Day rally. An opposition movement led by former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze had gathered around 300 people in the evening of 25 May, refusing to move and calling for the president to step down. When 3000 police surrounded the crowd, leaving them no escape route, the ensuing violence led to at least three deaths. A number of human rights groups have criticized the police operation. Mr Saakashvili shortly after claimed it was necessary in order to send a signal to the Kremlin, because the crowd of demonstrators was infiltrated by Russian military intelligence agents. Today he defended his position in an interview with the Ukrainian tabloid Segodnya, and said he was sickened by watching on TV stories of authorities using force against the people. -It should be understood what choices we had. And I believe we acted correctly. Judge for yourself. A group of provocateurs, which are ...

Elections, News

Leak shows U.S. believed secret tapes ‘turned the tide’ for Saakashvili in 2008 election

by | September 9, 2011

The United States ambassador at the time thought that two recordings which were televised by Saakashvili's government right before the presidential election in January 2008, decided the final outcome in his favor. The two clandestinely acquired tapes purportedly proved that one the president's challengers  to the presidency had plans to commit a coup d'etat. The new cable released by WikiLeaks shows that just as the country geared up for presidential elections on January 5, the U.S. ambassador John Tefft thought there was considerable uncertainty about the outcome, until the government released the tapes.   "We believe [the secret tapes] have turned the tide in Saakashvili's favor, as most Georgians were shocked and revolted by an alleged plot..."   - U.S. Ambassador John Tefft, 04.01.2008   "The polls are unreliable and all over the map. Those commissioned by the opposition show former president Saakashvili not gaining enough to win a first round victory; those commissioned by the ruling party show just the opposite.  The most interesting aspect of all the polls is their common denominator:  a large number (some 25 percent) of undecided voters.  The key to ...

Europe, News

Privatization will not mean losing control, government guarantees

by | September 9, 2011

As Georgia makes a new push to find more investors who will have a stake in its most strategically important assets, like the post and railways, the state will keep a controlling share of the stocks. Chair of the financial budgetary committee, Zurab Melikishvili, made the promise today during a debate in parliament about a new law which will allow old state businesses to be listed on foreign stock markets. But Levan Vepkhvadze from the oppositional Christian Democrat party raised doubt over the guarantee, and reminded Melikishvili that the government has categorically refused to write such a guarantee into the new law proposal. Another opposition politician, Guram Chakhvadze from the National Democrat party, sided with the government during the exchange and pointed out that there is a separate law which says that 75% of national company of oil and gas companies must remain in state ownership. This law, however, does not cover important assets that are now up for sale to foreign investors, such as the Georgian Railways and the Georgian Post. (Source: Interpressnews.)

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