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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.  

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‘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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

News

Tycoon fights to keep historic palace

by | October 31, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - A scuffle developed outside an important Tbilisi landmark before the weekend, as officials tried to stop Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili’s renovation work on the building. The castle of King Rostom, who reigned parts of present day Georgia in the late 16th century, has been under renovation for the last few years, but work was abruptly stopped Wednesday as officials from the Supervision Service arrived and demanded a halt in the maintenance work and forced the workers to leave the area. The Supervision Service is a Tbilisi City Hall body which monitors buildings and constructions. Strangers Sunday arrived at the premises and said they were from a company called Light Group Ltd, and that they would take over the restoration work. The individuals were able to present a document which appeared to be a lease agreement signed with Property Managament Ltd on October 1, stating that Property Management has transferred the building’s first floor of a spacious 150 square meters to Light Group. But the tycoon’s company Cartu Group is defending their ownership to the whole building, and has given Light Group Ltd until ...

Elections, News

Election reform is postponed

by | October 30, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The election reform has been postponed for two months. It should have ended by the end of October, but is delayed until the end of December. The government explains the delay with the need to wait until the Venice Commission publishes its final conclusion. A few days ago, Venice Commission chairman Tomas Markert, stated that their conclusion will be published on December 16 or 17. After that, parliament will start reviewing the bill. When parliament therefore waits until the Commission has had its say on the overhauled election law, it comes following an agreement between the government and the opposition. Nevertheless, it’s unclear whether the Council of Europe body´s remarks will be heeded or not. “We the opposition representatives hoped and gave this a chance; but the government has a necessity to make a product on the bases of an agreement and not only on its own initiative. This necessity gives me hope that there is a chance that firstly, all twelve points of the agreement will be implemented and on the other hand, the government’s unilateral initiatives will ...

News

Georgian challenger’s allies fired from city hall

by | October 29, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - As his last best option for entering Georgian politics was blocked, Bidzina Ivanishvili's allies are experiencing unprecedented trouble as two officials aligned with him in the Tbilisi city council are fired from their positions. As if it was not enough that Bidzina Ivanishvili's citizenship was taken away, it is creating a firestorm of controversy here in Tbilisi that two representatives in the capital's city council aligned with the president's main challenger were fired -- for not "fulfilling their responsibility". The opposition perceive this as part of a political power game. The drama erupted on Friday, after two members of Irakli Alasania's block, he being a promising Georgian politician and by many people's account the most viable contender, had two of their deputies in the city's council barred from further service. It has created an outrage that Zurab Abashidze and Viktor Dolidze from Alasania's party the Free Democrats were summarily fired. Zurab Abashidze has been Deputy Chairman of Parliament, while Viktor Dolidze has been chairman of the Health and Social Affairs Commission. “Saakashvili takes country back to the Bolshevik era,” Abashidze's former ...

Legal reform, News

West to Georgia: More Balanced Labor Regulations Needed

by | October 28, 2011

TBILILSI, DFWatch - Georgia has received a stern message from Western diplomats to amend its Labor Code during a conference dedicated to facilitate social dialogue held in Tbilisi on Thursday. The European Union's mission in Georgia made its position quite clear: If Georgia doesn't change its Labor Code, it will get neither EU Association Agreement nor Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+), arrangements which are designed to ease trade with EU member states. It also became clear during the conference that the Georgian government has eased its stubborn stance regarding the Labor Code which has been fiercely criticized for imbalance in the relationships between employers and employees, with strong tilt towards rights of employers. The Georgian government has justified it by emphasizing that such a policy would lead to more investments to the cash-stripped country. The conference was funded by the EU and organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a German foundation.  In the opening speech Philip Dimitrov, the head of the EU mission in the country reminded the government that it still has some important commitments to fulfill. He said that the EU ...

News

CoE criticizes proposed new election law

by | October 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Venice Commission has asked the government to change the proposed new Electoral Code, after going through all the issues envisaged in the proposed new law, both things that were agreed with the opposition and the ruling party's eleventh-hour "surprises". Council of Europe envoys made their critical stance clear at a special briefing help by the CoE's Venice Commission and the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) while delegates were visiting here in Tbilisi. The Venice Commission and ODIHR delegation headed by Tomas Markert has been holding meetings for two days with government, opposition and representatives of civil society. According to Markert, the aim of these meetings was to clarify all the issues in connection with the proposed new election law and getting familiar with various stakeholders' ideas and positions. This project has been sent for final review at the Venice Commission at the end of August 2011 and the government promises not to begin to review the new law until the commission punlishes its final conclusion. Tomas Markert notes that the Venice Commission and OSCE will publish ...

News, Security

Georgia opens way for Russia to WTO

by | October 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has agreed to a proposal from Swiss intermediaries which if adopted will lead to Russia becoming member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Russian position is not yet known. Russia joining WTO has become more of a pressing issue during the last few years. What stood in the way was the fact that Russia refused to fulfill the Georgian government’s main request, which involves the opening of customs checkpoints between Russia and Georgia, the lifting of Russia's embargo on Georgian goods as well as issues connected to the war in August 2008. But still Russia has not lost sight of the WTO membership up till today. It is not surprising, considering how it will make things easier for the country in its relations with the members. Besides, USA and Europe both had been involved in this process in the recent times. The Georgian government was still not going to give up its positions. But yesterday, Foreign Affairs Ministry officially confirmed that Georgia agreed on the proposal prepared by Swiss intermediaries. “Swiss intermediaries presented those proposals. It implies to set ...

News

MIA offers deal over journalist beatings

by | October 28, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian police accepts responsibility for damages journalists suffered as law enforcers violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration May 26. After the second court hearing of the trial at Tbilisi city court Wednesday, the Interior Ministry representative suggested to the journalists and media organizations affected by the violence to come to an agreement. Natia Kapanadze, the lawyer who defends the media who is suing the government, said the meeting was very short and Nino Tsotsonava, the Interior Ministry representative was late so she could not even attend the hearing. But when she finally arrived, she suggested to the journalists they they should come to an agreement saying that the state partly acknowledges responsibility. According to Natia Kapanadze, the suggestion is more like a trial balloon, as it is not formally binding and it's unclear what conditions apply. “I cannot say whether the media representatives will come to an agreement or not,” she added. Mzia Amaglobeli, founder of the Batumelebi Ltd. [one of plaintiffs] strictly rules out any kind of an agreement with the Interior Ministry, Netgazeti reported today. At the first hearing in the case, ...

News

“We don’t know who Ivanishvili is”

by | October 27, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Few Georgians doubt that Bidzina Ivanishvili is who he says he is, but now the government refuses him to officially reregister his gun in another person's name, saying they are unable to establish the businessman's identity. The licence to carry a gun was given the businessman November 1, 2010, while was still a Georgian citizen, according to his own press service. But a few days after unexpectedly launching himself as a political candidate October 7 Ivanishvili’s citizenship was revoked. Next, on October 21, the Ministry of Internal Affairs told him to apply to their service agency to reregister his weapon in another person's name. “Four days later we received a groundless refusal,” the statement from the businessman's the press office reads. “Service Agency officer determines it as unclear how the French citizen Bidzina Ivanishvili is registered in the village Chorvila [Western of Georgia, Imereti Region]. He said it is impossible to identify Ivanishvili,” the statements says. Shalva Tadumadze, Ivanishvili’s lawyer, applied to the Interior Ministry to clarify the issue of the weapons keeping. While asking for a judicial consultation about the application, it ...

News

Government goes mum on campaign financing

by | October 27, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - When the government recently killed financier Bidzina Ivanishvili's plan B for entering politics, it claimed only to be acting on the advice of the Council of Europe. Now it turns mum on exactly where and when the CoE has made such a recommendation. After his citizenship was taken from him, the only way Mr Ivanishvili could legally continue his campaign to take power away from president Mikheil Saakashvili was by supporting existing political parties by way of one of the companies he owns. Last Sunday the government briefed a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on a new set of changes which will prevent any private companies or organizations from donating money to political parties. The government claims that it is only following through on recommendations from European Council organs, but according to the three NGOs which are part of this process, the new element about keeping legal entities out of politics was not part of recommendations from abroad. When politicians Wednesday pressed the government on the issue, they refused to specify in what way, where and when, an international advisory ...

News

New law kills businessman’s plan B

by | October 26, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government is going to take away financier Bidzina Ivanishvili's last chance to enter Georgian politics, according to a group of experts and NGOs who have seen the details of a new proposal that will make it illegal for organizations and businesses to fund political parties. The proposal comes out of the Ministry of Justice and was presented to the NGOs at a special meeting October 22. After Ivanishvili launched his campaign, the President revoked his citizenship, which prohibited him from setting up or enter a political party and fund politics in general. But according to current legislation, he still has a right to finance a party through his own established legal entities. But now it seems the government is trying to close this option for him too. At a meeting October 22, the analytic department at the Ministry of Justice presented some proposals about the regulations of financing the political unions, according to a statement released yesterday by Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA) and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED). According to NGO representatives present at ...

News

Challenger: Saakashvili is too impulsive

by | October 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian billionaire who seems to have a chance at taking over power in Georgia gets more personal in his second interview with Georgian media, criticising president Mikheil Saakashvili for making important decisions based on his own personal whims. According to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the government’s decisions are made abruptly, and as an example he mentions the case of how his own citizenship was revoked just three days after he launched his political campaign. Acknowledging that the Saakashvili administration has good management abilities, he points out they they aren't too strong on long-term thinking: “I had relations with Saakashvili and I tried to talk about further future plans and they do not hide the fact that they only make calculations for one to two months,” the businessman said in a video-interview with independent journalist Nino Zhizhilashvili, which was published by the Georgian magazine Liberali and republished elsewhere. In his opinion, the decision to revoke his and his wife's passport was an irrational decision driven by fear. “They don't know how to plan, they can't look ahead. This is seen not only in the ...

News

Government gives rights to nationals living abroad

by | October 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgians living abroad will get the right to visit their home country without a visa, get a grant to study in their homeland and to represent Georgia at sports events. A person gets the new rights after receiving a special status, which means they will become equal with Georgian citizens in some regards, mainly to do with education and culture. Parliament is about to adopt the new law on ‘Compatriots Living Abroad and Diaspora Organizations.’ This is a government initiative, and author of the bill is the Georgian State Ministry Office for Diaspora Affairs. According to the bill, a compatriot living abroad can receive the new status if he or she is a Georgian citizen and has been living abroad for a long time. But the new status is also open to citizens of other countries who have their roots in Georgia or her/his native language belongs to the Georgian-Caucasian language group. In addition, the status can be granted to underage persons on the basis of an appeal from the parents, if one of the parents is a compatriot living abroad. The civil ...

News

Court cuts short businessman’s citizenship plea

by | October 25, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The popular newcomer in Georgian politics was promptly denied having his citizenship restored today by a Tbilisi court, thereby seemingly blocking his progress towards power in the country. Tbilisi City Court ruled against repealing a presidential decree of October 11 which took away Bidzina Ivanishvili and his wife’s Georgian citizenship. The court's ruling came during solicitation and before the case had got as far as discussing the main arguments. President Mikheil Saakashvili issued a special decree three days after the businessman launched his campaign, taking away his citizenship and thereby making it illegal for him to enter politics in the country. On October 21 the decree was taken to court in an attempt at getting the decision annulled. “…Because [the decree] was inherently harmful to the interests and legitimate rights of Bidzina ivanishvili and Catherine Khvedelidze,” Ivanishvili's lawyer Shalva Tadumadze explains. Tadomadze says he will appeal the ruling to the Appeal Court within the 12 day term. After that it could go to the supreme court. In other developments, it was announced that stones found on Mr Ivanishvili's Moscow representative as he was ...

Media, News

Writer quits after threats against family

by | October 24, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The script writer for a new TV show has broken off his cooperation with businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, due to threats against his family. Zviad Bliadze was recently signed up to be the writer for an animated satire show that is to be financed by Ivanishvili, called Dardubala. But his family members were threatened that they would be fired if Bliadze went to work on the show. "I’ve been repeatedly told from family members that if I don’t leave Dardubala, they will be fired from work,” Zviad Bliadze explained in a statement. Bliadze is a well-known Georgian actor best known for his role on a comedy show. Some years back he worked together with journalist Shalva Ramishvili. In the early 2000s they made waves through the show Dardubala, which was aired on Rustavi 2, then an independent TV station. The show poked fun at the authorities during a time of a growing democracy movement which ultimately led to the ousting of president Eduard Shevardnadze. Then Shalva Ramishvili founded his own station called TV 202, and after the rose revolution the two of them ...

Media, News

Fired for expressing their opinion

by | October 23, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - In 2011, several journalists have lost their job for simply expressing their opinion on the internet. The ability to freely acquire and distribute information should be recognized as a basic human right. That was the message from media commentators from the three south Caucasus countries who had gathered in Tbilisi this weekend to exchange views on the media and freedom of speech. “In 2011 I remember several journalists who were fired for expressing their opinion on a social network site. one case was at the channel Mega TV, in the Khoni region. The journalist uploaded a self-shot video. The same happened in Kutaisi, a journalist was fired for her activity on Facebook," Natia Kuprashvili, director of Association of Regional Broadcasters of Georgia said during a debate after one of the speeches. The Eighth South Caucasus Media Conference was held in Tbilisi on 20-21 October at the hotel Marriott Tbilisi. The topic of this year’s conference was Pluralism and internet governance. It was attended by up to 80 people, and included government representatives from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, as well as media, ...

News

Fears ‘wave of repressions’ in prisons

by | October 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia imposes three months isolation for prisoners who misbehave. The opposition fears that the government is getting ready for a ‘new wave of repressions’. There are suspicions now of what the motive is for the new bill to change the Imprisonment Code. After the amendments come into force, the prisoners may be cut off from all contact with the outside world for three months as an extra punishment for ‘bad behavior’. According to the bill, in disciplinary cases, the prisoner will for three month be denied: telephone conversations, receiving personal correspondence, the right to use shops inside the detention facility and receiving money. The government justifies the new harsh prison regime by need to have a "containment mechanism", which will raise the prisoner’s motivation for discipline and for following prison regulations. But the opposition thinks this decision is dangerous; they think that it is a step towards an aim of isolating all the prisoners completely from the outside world. The reason is to deprive the prisoners of the opportunity to inform others about their situation, write complaints, and have ...

Europe, News

Challenger’s plan: ‘Significant changes’, then leave

by | October 22, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The man who challenges Saakashvili's power in Georgia will get rid of the current president's people and inoculate the country from something like this ever happening again, then leave office to join the opposition. For the first time speaking with Georgian press, businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili said he will fire the Interior Minister and all other key people in government. Then he will ask civil society to rewrite the country's constitution as a first priority, to prevent a Putin type eternal regime. He expects these changes to take two to three years, and after that he will step down. The course towards Nato membership remains, but he seeks to make amends with Russia. In a three and a half hour interview given to Ia Antadze from Radio Liberty and published Thursday on the website Kalmasoba.ge, Ivanishvili covers many of the country's pressing issues. He discusses his strategy for addressing the issue that a big part of Georgia’s territory is occupied by Russia while diplomatic relations between these two countries are practically severed. Considering all the mistakes made under Georgia’s previous presidents, ...

News, Politics, World

USA: democratic transfer of power is needed

by | October 21, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - America will be expecting to see a democratic transition of power in Georgia in the presidential election in 2013, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said during a press briefing here in Tbilisi yesterday. Reactions have varied from the opposition seizing on the use of the phrase "transition of power" as a signal for regime change, to the government saying Burns doesn't mean that the ruling National Movement Party won’t remain in government. The briefing took place while Burns paid a working visit to Georgia and he has held meetings with both government officials and opposition politicians as well as representatives of the media. The meetings are said to have centered around the country’s internal and foreign policy and made it clear that the US remains a partner of Georgia. US will do its best to protect democratic institutions via the US-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission and other existing contacts, William Burns said. “We will do all we can to support Georgia’s emerging democratic institutions for development of a vibrant civil society, of free and independent media, of the rule of law based ...

News

Besieged businessman met by wall of silence

by | October 20, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - They have taken away his citizenship, accused his bank of laundering money, arrested a friend of his son and disarmed his bodyguards, but in all of these cases the authorities in Georgia are not commenting beyond stating the facts. Since he almost two weeks ago set out on a mission to remove president Mikheil Saakashvili from power, Bidzina Ivanishvili is increasingly finding himself besieged. But the Saakashvili government responds only with dry, minimalistic comments, while the three national TV stations are papering over what is happening. A dozen foreign diplomats were sluiced in and out of Ivanishvili's futuristic Tbilisi residence today, but would not tell members of the press what they had been talking with the tycoon about. They might have been responding to his call to foreign diplomats two days earlier for an immediate response to Tuesday's armed police raid against one of his bank's money transports. Cartu Group is now demanding the return of Cartu Bank’s vehicle and the cash it was carrying as police busted the van along with six bank employees. Initial statements form the Interior ...

Media, News

Media watchdog chairman accused of conflict of interest

by | October 19, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - The chair of Georgia's media regulatory commission keeps back from interfering when TV stations break the advertising rules. His inaction as a watchdog leader is to his own personal benefit. The chair, Irakli Chikovani, has a 35% share in Magi Style Media Ltd, which sells TV airtime to advertisers. Therefore, the chairman's private income depends on advertising rates and the amount of advertising in the broadcast schedule, according to a new survey by two Georgian organizations. The group found that Mr Chikovani has stayed passive when he should have imposed sanctions on the TV channels for exceeding law imposed time limits for ads, and that this he stands to benefit from this financially. This amounts to a conflict of interest, and is just one of several serious problems researchers from Young Georgian Lawyers Association (GYLA) and Levan Mikeladze Foundation found while monitoring the commission's work. The monitoring took place from July to September 2011 with financial support from Open Society Georgia Foundation, and results were presented at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel October 18. Levan Dolidze, chairman of Levan Mikeladze Foundation, explains that ...

News

Financier signing up political advisors

by | October 19, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia's richest is carefully laying the groundwork for his entering politics and wresting the Caucasus nation out of the grip of president Mikheil Saakashvili. One crucial piece in his plan is to put together a pool of advisors around him in order to bounce ideas around and gauge the atmosphere among the population. But the advisory board may be a stumbling block for the political newcomer, because after the authorities took away his citizenship it's illegal for him get involved in politics. Meetings of the informal board, which so far includes a poet, a playwright, a legal expert and a psychologist, are therefore necessarily circumspect and themes general in nature.   "Conversations about several issues are prohibited by law, so we have to discuss issues in an extraordinary way" --Irakli Sesiashvili, political advisor to businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili   October 7, the Georgian businessman launched his campaign by releasing several statements describing his political goals, criticizing the government, opposition political parties, media and a number of Georgian commentators. Shortly after releasing his first statement Ivanishvili's citizenship was unexpectedly revoked. According to his lawyer Eka ...

News

Political newcomer target of armed police operation

by | October 18, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch - Police in Tbilisi Tuesday afternoon arrested six employees of CartuBank in an armed operation against the bank which belongs to the businessman who ten days ago said he would challenge president Saakashvili's almost total power grip over the country. Government friendly TV Rustavi 2 reports that several are detained for money laundering, and that they are connected to Bidzina Ivanishvili. His lawyer Eka Beselia says the police operation was an "aggressive and criminal attack" against her client. According to Beselia, police confiscated a cash transport vehicle belonging to the bank which at the time was carrying a large amount of money belonging to CartuBank. “It’s a violent act of government representatives. This act was carried out by trampling on the constitution and international regulations,” Beselia's statement reads. The lawyer demands the release of four cashiers and two money collectors and the return of CartuBank’s property. “This is an unprecedented act of political persecution; we appeal to public institutions, diplomatic representatives, and international organizations for an immediate response!” the statements says. CartuBank was founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili in 1996. Also on Tusday, it emerged that ...

Elections, News

Opposition feels targeted by ban on loyalty gifts

by | October 18, 2011

Georgia's ruling party has made it illegal for a political candidate to let him or herself be caught up in backroom deals with campaign contributors. The opposition thinks it's done to undermine their financing. While the laws against corruption here as in other countries applies to elected officials, Georgia has widened criminal liability to also include persons standing in elections, usually not a crime in most countries, although heavily criticized, unless there is a direct "quid pro quo". According to a new bill, requesting or obtaining money, securities, other property and property benefits and any undue advantage by an election candidate will be punishable. The new law is viewed with suspicion in opposition quarters. They fear that they will be cut off from private financing ahead of elections, a view shared by experts as well as a broad swathe of the population: In a debate on Maestro TV Monday night 98 % of callers voted that the new law is a way of targeting the opposition. “I don’t think it’s legal, because firstly candidate is not a public servant and secondly, various promises are ...

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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