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 ...

Opinion

Should we expect more unexpected initiatives regarding party financing?

by | October 31, 2011

On 22 October, local non-government organizations met representatives of the Analytical Department of the Ministry of Justice. At the meeting, the Ministry declared that it intends to present legislative initiatives regarding party financing to the parliament of Georgia which would reflect the recommendations offered by local and international organizations (GRECO, CoU) meant to deal with corruption in the funding of political parties. Together with the recommendations aiming at increasing transparency in party financing, the Ministry proposed regulations limiting and in certain cases restricting political party financing, a measure which contradicts certain provisions of the June 27, 2011 agreement between the ruling party and 7 political parties. It was clear, that besides international and local observers recommendations, the Ministry of Justice considered it appropriate to introduce restriction on legal entities in whether they may contribute to a political party or donate to a party’s election Campaign Fund. It is worth mentioning, that although the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers recommends that member states”take measures aimed at limiting, prohibiting or otherwise strictly regulating donations from legal entities”, in the recommendations directed at ...

Opinion

Drawbacks of a speedy legislative process

by | October 31, 2011

After the “Rose Revolution” a period of numerous reforms started in Georgia. Mostly, reforms required to amend legislation and thus, to hold parliamentary discussions. Unfortunately, the Parliament of Georgia step-by-step lost a role of a place, where professional discussion should take place on every presented amendment. First reason of that is an ownership of constitutional majority only by the ruling party and deficiency of political pluralism. For example, the Parliament of Georgia has 138 members at this moment and 115 from them belong to ruling party. Second reason, on which I’ll focus, is a high speed of legislative process. In practice, the work of the Parliament is very quick. Such a manner of making decisions in most cases excludes civil society involvement, exchange of ideas and the possibility for correction and improvement of initiated bills. In general, the legislative process could be divided into two stages: First, when a bill is elaborated and second, when it is presented before Parliament. Provision of involvement is important on both levels. It is proved as an exception to participate in the elaboration of a ...

Opinion

“We Are Unafraid of Saakashvili’s Attempt at a Pre-Halloween Massacre”

by | October 31, 2011

More than a decade ago, Mikheil Saakashvili got his start in Georgian politics in the Tbilisi city council – before the Rose Revolution and the toppling of Eduard Shevardnadze that brought Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM) to power. Despite all the changes Georgia has witnessed since that time, back then the capital city’s local government was a breeding ground for democratic change. It was a place where the opposition could make its voice heard. Sadly, that has changed as we now know first-hand. This past Friday, we were both dismissed from our posts in leadership in the council in a party-line vote by the UNM on puzzling pretexts. It was a troubling sign of how far backwards Georgia has slid when it comes to the very democratic yardstick that once made change possible here. The first reason the UNM-dominated Sakrebulo (city council) said they were stripping us of our posts was our “unclear political activity.” When this suspiciously vague charge only belied their actual motives, the government’s hatchet men changed their story slightly and said we were removed for failing ...

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 ...

Opinion

The 2011 political wine season

by | October 27, 2011

The year 2011 proved itself strange. Saakashvili’s government had long been creating many difficulties for its citizens – economic, legal, political. Unhappy people hoped for the opposition. The opposition split into two parts; one focusing on protest rallies, the other on improving the election environment. Neither was able to undermine or even shake Saakashvili's government. People developed a critical attitude toward the opposition and the hope that the government could change, vanished. The Georgian population was not the only one expecting for Georgian government changing. Our partners in Europe and the US seemed to have the same expectations – indications had been made all the time for renewing the government through fair elections. This is understandable; because Saakashvili’s confrontational rhetoric towards Russia had been raising more or less difficulties on the way to the ‘resetting’. The government seemed not to notice request from the West – to set up conditions for reconciliation with Russia (Which the French president openly expressed during his visit in Tbilisi, our capital city). Shortly, stubborn nature of the government had been creating difficulties inside and outside ...

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 ...

Opinion

If Georgia wants to have fair elections…

by | October 24, 2011

A number of circumstances determine fairness of elections in Georgia. Among them are the electoral system, transparency of political party financing, the scale of the use of administrative resources for the purpose of party campaigning, accuracy of the voters’ list, the level of civic education, the existence of free media, independent judiciary, active civil society and a strong opposition in the country. It’s hard to say which of them make elections fair, the fact is, that we cannot make considerable improvement of the electoral environment unless the progress refers to all the above listed factors. The electoral system plays the essential role in the process. It is important to note, that ongoing reform of the Electoral Code slightly changes the existing electoral system by increasing the number of MPs,  leaving unsolved the main issue, which is the disproportion between the number of votes received by a political party and the number of mandates in parliament.  For example, under the existing electoral system, a political party which gets thirty percent or more of the votes in both the majoritarian and the proportional system ...

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 ...

Opinion

“Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood”

by | October 24, 2011

How Will Saakashvili Chart His Path Into the History Books? The last couple weeks have probably not been fun ones for Georgia’s government, or, more aptly, the political machinery that has long ensured its lock on power. Until now, with comfortably high poll ratings from 2008 to the present, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement didn’t have much to worry about. A largely hapless opposition did little to take a bite out of Saakashvili’s high favorability, to say nothing of the largely state-controlled media that incessantly trumpets a pro-governmental line. But the entrance of a previously low-key billionaire into the political fray changes that dynamic. Especially since Bidzina Ivanishvili has made clear his intention to change the government by democratic means. Since his public declaration of this goal on October 7th, few people in Georgia have been talking about much else. The government’s first reactions to this news have veered to the extreme. First, Saakashvili unilaterally acted to strip Ivanishvili of his Georgian citizenship on October 11th in a move he is technically able to make, but in a broader sense lays ...

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, ...

Opinion

Access to public information in Georgia

by | October 22, 2011

“According to the survey, which was carried out in 80 counties of the world, Georgia is the first country after New Zealand in terms of the most effective and transparent functioning of the state office. Nothing to say about Russia, Venezuela and other countries, even France, Germany and Japan are behind us in the list of the survey. This is the result of the reforms that we, all together, holding the last few years. It’s a pride that I have as a result of your activities. Let’s remind where we were 6-7 years ago and where we are now” – said Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia, on October 19, 2011 at the meeting with public officials. In fact, if we look at the results of the research, which covered 80 countries, implemented by the trustworthy international non governmental organizations (“Centre for Law and Democracy”, “Access Info Europe”, “International Budget Partnership”), we’ll discover that Georgia is one of the top countries in terms of access to public information and significantly ahead of an institutionally strong democratic states ...

Opinion

State of the Judiciary in Georgia

by | October 21, 2011

The quality and degree of democracy and freedom in a state, among some other factors, depends on the level of judicial independence. The principle that the judiciary must be independent from both legislative and executive branches of government is built in a constitutional idea of the separation of powers. Furthermore, judicial independence is one of the key components of a basic human right to a fair trial guaranteed by the international human rights instruments, including Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights to which Georgia is a party. Independence gives rise to confidence. As the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has put it “it is of fundamental importance in a democratic society that the courts inspire confidence in the public and above all, as far as criminal proceedings are concerned, in the accused”. Despite some progress over the recent years, the judicial system is one of the least trusted by the public among public institutions. According to the International Republican Institute (IRI) surveys, although over the last two years the percentage of those that have expressed ...

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 ...

Opinion

10 years after the peace plan

by | October 20, 2011

Almost 10 years have passed since the UN, in an attempt to help solve the Abkhaz conflict, launched the Document on "Distribution of Competences between Sukhumi and Tbilisi". Basically, this was an effort to have the Abkhaz and the Georgian sides to the conflict sit down at the negotiating table and work out modalities for a peaceful settlement. The Document stipulates that this should be accomplished under premises defined in Article 2: "Abkhazia is a sovereign entity, based on the rule of law, within the State of Georgia". For a short while a window of opportunity opened up which seemed to allow for conflict settlement between Abkhazia and Georgia on the much-disputed basis of Georgia's territorial integrity, a position held at that time by all members of the United Nations. However, in the end the effort failed. When I came to Georgia as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UNOMIG Mission in November 1999 the key item in my mandate was to broker a solution for the Abkhaz conflict. Personally, I was convinced that such a solution was ...

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 ...

Opinion

Myths about the Georgian Economy

by | October 18, 2011

During the reforming of post-revolutionary Georgia’s economy, significant experience has been accumulated in this field, both positive and negative. A plethora of myths about post-revolutionary Georgia have been created. The most accepted myths about Georgia’s economy need to be debunked. Myth 1: “Georgia—A Country of Neo-Liberal Reforms” Georgia received this status thanks to the enumerated successes in reforming its economy. Adoption of a Labor Code which limits employees’ rights and expands those of employers’, should be pointed out along with downsizing of government employees, reduction of the tax burden and simplification of procedures for obtaining licenses and various types of permits necessary for starting up a business. Such reforms were called neo-liberal reforms; it was emphasized that such reforms contribute to making the country more attractive for investment. Thanks to these reforms Doing Business, which is prepared by the International Financial Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank, Georgia moved from 112th place to 37th place in 2006; to 18th place in 2007; and to 12th place in 2010. Of course, the Government of the country advertises this achievement in every way possible. The actual ...

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 ...

Opinion

Improving the election environment in Georgia

by | October 15, 2011

Georgian society has a history of discussions, disputes, criticism and disagreements around the election environment and election legislation. As an new election approaches, the Parliament of Georgia starts a process of amending the Election Code, and as a rule, a few months prior to the elections significant amendments are made to the legislation. Again the county is in the same process. On September 19, 2011 parliament initiated a new draft of the Election Code, which mostly concentrates on an agreement between the political parties made prior to the initiation but also refers to some other issues, which have never been a subject of political agreement. Both the content and the process of creating the draft law deserve attention. During several months, political discussions around the improvement of the election environment were pending in the different formats. All public interest was concentrated on this process; NGOs were actively involved in both observing it and making recommendations. Despite the high public interest Georgian society discovered, that the new draft code has been written in parliament in a secret manner. Although the topics of the ...

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 ...

Opinion

Disenfranchisement of a Georgian Tycoon: Was It Lawful?

by | October 12, 2011

In just a couple of days after Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian billionaire known internationally as Boris Ivanishvili, had announced his plans to establish his own political party, to run for the parliamentary and presidential elections due in 2012 and 2013, to win decisively both elections, and to set up a new one-party government, the Georgian authorities claimed that Mr. Ivanishvili forfeited his Georgian citizenship. If the government's claim gets through what it will mean for the richest man in this country and number 185 in the world according to the Forbes rankings is that he will not be eligible either for running for elections or for setting up a political party.  But how could it happen that the owner of a huge property worth of US $5.5 billion lost franchise overnight?  Was the government's decision lawful or arbitrary one? We will try to answer these questions by analyzing relevant provisions of the Georgian Constitution and the law on citizenship, as well as the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights to which Georgia is a party. What we will start ...

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 ...

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