|Georgian Daily News for December 21, 2007|
|April 01, 2008|
Headlines from Television News:
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development rejected concerns that political turmoil is chilling Georgia's economic climate after the prime minister said the economy had lost $500 million since September. Georgians go to the polls on Jan. 5 to vote in an early election called by former President Mikheil Saakashvili after he declared a state of emergency in the wake of violent clashes between police and opposition protesters. Under Georgian law, Saakashvili had to step down to run for re-election. ``I don't know of a single investor who has slowed down because of these events,'' Michael Davey, director of the EBRD's operations in Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus, said in an interview in Tbilisi today. The EBRD invested $220 million in Georgia this year, and plans to boost that number to $350 million next year, he said. The World Bank this year ranked Georgia first out of 175 countries in terms of improving the ease of doing business. Saakashvili's pro-market policies have received plaudits in the West, while his crackdown on the opposition and closure of a television station critical of his administration drew criticism from allies such as the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, appointed by Saakashvili on Nov. 16 as the state of emergency expired, said on Imedi television last week that the country's $10 billion economy has lost $500 million in value since the political crisis began in September. He said economic growth would slow to between 5 percent and 7 percent in 2008 after growth of 12.4 percent in the first half of 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund
Promise to Investors
Nearly a million tourists visited Georgia in 2007, government says
Shanghai Company To Build Hyatt Park Tbilisi
Company Loyal Estate starts implementation of the Hyatt Park Tbilisi project. As Kakha Sharabidze, director of Loyal Estate, told journalists, construction of the complex would be carried out by the international construction company MCC 20, one of the best five companies in Shanghai. “The construction company MCC 20 has great experience of construction of such kind of the large-scale projects”, - Kakha Sharabidze said. Cost of the project totals $200 million. Term of implementation of it makes 25 months. About 2500 individuals will be employed at construction, with 70% of them – local residents. Hyatt Park Tbilisi complex will be located at the right bank of Mtkvari River. It will occupy the area of 127,000 square meters. On the occasion of start of the construction, Loyal Estate and the Georgian Company Eastern Promotion will arrange concert of the Columbian star Shakira in Tbilisi. The concert will be held on 29 December in Rike Square. Attendance is free.
“Bank Of Georgia” Named “Best Georgian Bank Of 2007”
“Financial Times Business Ltd” – “The Banker” publication awarded JSC “Bank Of Georgia” with the “Best Georgian Bank of 2007”, Prime-News Business was told at the Bank. “The abovementioned award indicates success and international acknowledgement of “Bank of Georgia”. I would like to stress that our Bank received “Euromoney” award for third time. The award was presented for achieved progress as the best Georgian bank. Another international publication “Global Finance” named “Bank of Georgia” the best Georgian bank of 2007 in sale and purchase of currencies and financial trade spheres on December 15,” stated Nikoloz Enukidze, the acting Chairman of the Supervisory Council of “Bank of Georgia”. “The Banker” award was established in 2000 and is granted to the world commercial and investment banks for achieved success.
“People’s Post of Georgia” Became First Franchisee Of Arab “ARAMEX” Company
“People’s Post of Georgia”, the subsidiary of JSC “People’s Bank of Georgia”, and transnational company “ARAMEX” signed franchise agreement at “Sheraton Metechi Palace” hotel in Tbilisi on Thursday. In accordance to the agreement, “People’s Post” became the first franchisee of “ARAMEX” in the world. “People’s Post” has been operating in Georgia in the course of one year and was engaged in servicing customers only within the country. With assistance of “ARAMEX” we will be able to carry out international transportations,” stated Zviad Sajaia, the Head of “People’s Post”. According to him, in the frames of transportations customers will be rendered standard services (express post, cargo transportation) and new service – “Shop and Ship”. This service will allow each customer to receive in the shortest period of time and at low tariffs any object purchased via the Internet. “The price of transportations will be moderate as we have taken into account prices of the Georgian market. Our aim is to introduce obtainable services,” Zviad Sajaia noted. Franchise agreement with “ARAMEX” is significant from investments point of view, as the transnational company makes direct capital investments. The company will make scaled technological and intellectual investments in Georgia. “ARAMEX” company, the leader in express-transportations sphere, was established in 1982. The company founded “International Distribution Alliance” in 2002, which unites 40 independent companies. At the moment “ARAMEX” owns 12 000 offices, 33 000 vehicles and employs 66 000 peoples. “People’s Post of Georgia”, the subsidiary of JSC “People’s Bank of Georgia”, commenced its activity in the Georgian market in October 2006.
Autumn Session Of Georgian Parliament Closed Officially
The autumn session of the Georgian Parliament has officially closed at the final sitting of the Bureau on Friday in accordance to the order and the country’s constitution. Mikheil Machavariani, the acting Chairman of the Parliament, conducted the Bureau sitting. “Despite closure of the autumn session of the Georgian Parliament, the legislative body will conduct another sitting till the end of the year in accordance to the previously taken decisions,” stated Mikheil Machavariani. A non-schedule session will be held at the Parliament on December 28 to approve the draft of amendments to the law “On the State Budget of Georgia for 2007” and the bill “On the State Budget of Georgia for 2008”.
Presentation of the Project NETEXPO GEORGIA Held In Tbilisi
Presentation of the project NETEXPO GEORGIA was held today in Tbilisi Sheraton Metechi Palace Hotel. As BLACK SEA PRESS was told at the Ministry of Economic Development of Georgia, the initiative implied establishment of the database and the search system for investors, for both local and foreign businessmen as well as for private entrepreneurs to help them in access to the information about the products both produced in Georgia and imported. The system gives the opportunity of establishment of partnership in the priority sectors for both investments and business transactions. The information is available at the website www.netexpo.ge. Search of any products and services available at the market of Georgia is envisaged under the project provided the information is included in the database. Search of the data is possible by means of the following initial parameters: branch of the economy; sector of the branch; name of the product; special parameters. Representatives of the private sector and of NGOs are participating in the current stage of the project.
Business tycoon and presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili is no longer an official suspect in the alleged attempted overthrow of the government, Nika Gvaramia, the deputy general prosecutor, said on December 20. Speaking live on Rustavi 2 TV’s late-night political talk show Primetime, Gvaramia said that an investigation into an alleged attempted coup was still ongoing; however, he said, Patarkatsishvili was no longer a suspect. “Patarkatsishvili was a suspect in the case, but he has never been charged,” Gvaramia said. “No criminal proceedings are underway against this person.” Gvaramia explained that, in accordance with the law, Patarkatsishvili’s suspect status had been automatically dropped as no charges had been brought against him 30 days after his naming as an official suspect. The General Prosecutor’s Office officially declared Patarkatsishvili a suspect in an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government on November 7. The decision was, however, only made public two days later. Gvaramia also reiterated the official position vis-ŕ-vis demands to provide Patarkatsishvili with additional security guarantees. He said there were no legal grounds for doing so. “The law does not envisage such additional guarantees,” Gvaramia said. “The law provides immunity to a presidential candidate and there is no other provision in the law beyond that.” Senior government and ruling party officials have claimed that Patarkatsishvili’s demand was simply “a pre-election stunt.” The Patarkatsishvili campaign claims that presidential immunity is not enough. The Central Election Commission (CEC) can on a majority vote, it points out, remove this immunity if prosecutors provide justified reasons for doing so. Gvaramia clarification follows an intervention earlier on the same day by MP Valery Gelbakhiani, representing the Patarkatsishvili campaign, in which he said that Patarkatsishvili had no immediate plans to return to Georgia because of the absence of additional security guarantees. Gelbakhiani said there was a threat that Patarkatsishvili would be arrested upon his arrival. To make his point, he showed journalists a video clip of retired Colonel, Revaz Chakvetadze, in which he claims he was forced to give false evidence against Patarkatsishvili to justify the alleged planned arrest of Patarkatsishvili. Chakvetadze claimed in the video message that he had been arrested on November 12 and released only after being forced to “give false testimony” that Patarkatsishvili had financed the purchase of weapons for a coup. The deputy general prosecutor, however, rejected the allegation, saying it was “untrue.” “This person [Chakvetadze] has never even been arrested,” Gvaramia said. “So he couldn’t have given any testimony against anyone.”
The billionaire and the government, estranged
Profile: Badri Patarkatsishvili;
This is the third in the Messenger’s series of profiles of the seven presidential candidates
Georgians largely met Badri Patarkatsishvili’s announcement of a presidential bid with incredulity. Though he had a positive image cultivated by years of philanthropic giving, voters had a hard time imagining a billionaire—much less one wanted by authorities in two countries—stepping into the presidency. Patarkatsishvili has, however, pushed ahead with an attention-grabbing and vigorous independent campaign.
Patarkatsishvili spent his childhood in Tbilisi. Unsurprisingly, his former teachers speak glowingly of the astoundingly wealthy businessman. “He was a very handsome, clear-eyed pupil was always dressed tastefully and was every teachers’ favorite boy,” one former teacher told Rustavi 2 this month. The intervening years between upstanding pupil and business tycoon, however, are anything but clear. Patarkatsishvili apparently spent time at a few different universities before settling in Russia as a young man, starting on his path to wealth. Patarkatsishvili was among the beneficiaries of the anarchic, free-wheeling business climate of Russia in the early 90s. Forming a close partnership with oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who like Patarkatsishvili was later to effectively exiled from Russia, he became involved in a long list of valuable companies. By the end of the decade, Patarkatsishvili was one Georgia’s wealthiest sons.
Fall from good graces, twice
The good times lasted little longer than Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. By 2001, both Patarkatsishvili and Berezovsky were on the run from fraud charges. Moscow authorities say there were going after the oligarchs who profited from the disorder and corruption of Yeltsin’s era; Patarkatsishvili says the charges were invented after he and Berezovsky fell out with Vladimir Putin’s administration. Patarkatsishvili found shelter in London and Tbilisi. Both former president Eduard Shevardnadze and incumbent presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili repeatedly rebuffed Kremlin requests to extradite Patarkatsishvili to Russia. Once in Georgia, Patarkatsishvili’s deep pockets were turned towards domestic investments, including the Kulevi oil terminal (since sold), a football club and much more through Salford Capital, the investment fund managing much of his portfolio. Much of that money, opposition politicians now claim, went to causes and needs benefiting the Saakashvili government. Patarkatsishvili, who had previously controlled the Kommersant media group and a television network in Russia, also created the Imedi media holding in Georgia. Yet as Imedi grew into one of the country’s top two broadcasters, it quickly began to play a pro-opposition role, contrasted with government-friendly rival Rustavi 2. By 2006, Patarkatsishvili had publicly fallen out with the Saakashvili administration. He accused the government of extorting money from businessmen for an opaque slush fund and mounting pressure on Imedi TV. Ruling party representatives immediately branded Patarkatsishvili as an oligarch trying to manipulate the country to his own ends...
Saakashvili, Patarkatsishvili should be Banned from Race, Watchdog
Presidential candidates Mikheil Saakashvili and Badri Patarkatsishvili have violated the election code and should be disqualified from the race, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said on December 20. The group, which has been monitoring the various electoral campaigns, has asked Tbilisi City Court to strip both Saakashvili and Patarkatsishvili of their presidential candidacy status, citing alleged bribery of voters. GYLA said that Saakashvili had violated the law at least twice – once on December 8 when he gave a computer to a teenager and the second time was when his re-election campaign headquarters printed 250,000 campaign leaflets, each one containing three free tickets to an amusement park in Adjara. Patarkatsishvili, GYLA said, had violated the election code with promises to spend GEL 1.5 billion of his own money on paying a portion of people’s electricity and gas bills and on financial allowances for unemployed people, if elected. Article 73 of the election code reads that it is prohibited in an election campaign for candidates or "their representatives to personally, or through someone else, transfer to voters monetary funds, gifts and other items of material value, to sell them goods at discounted prices, to supply or disseminate free-of-charge any goods (except for agitation materials envisaged by this Law), as well as to raise the interest of voters by promising to transfer them money, securities and other items of material value.”
Georgia’s Plebiscites: The Forgotten Vote?
While domestic and international audiences are busy scrutinizing Georgia’s upcoming January 5 presidential vote, little attention has yet been paid to plebiscites planned for the same day on a parliamentary election date and Georgia’s accession into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.In part, that lack of attention reflects official attitudes. The date of the parliamentary elections was one of opposition leaders’ key demands during the November 2-7 Tbilisi demonstrations that ended in a sharp crackdown. Former President Mikheil Saakashvili had proposed holding the plebiscites in parallel with early presidential elections in a gesture to calm political tensions following the breakup of the protests and the declaration of a state of emergency. A plebiscite – in contrast to a referendum – is a non-binding expression of popular will. But in Georgian politics, conflicts change fast. In 2006, the ruling United National Movement Party fought successfully to have the constitution changed to move the elections back from the spring of 2008 to the fall of 2008. It remained opposed to further changes. Now, according to Davit Bakradze, state minister for conflict resolution and Saakashvili’s campaign spokesperson, the government no longer has any “difficulty” over the date of the parliamentary election. Bakradze states that the government’s original desire to avoid holding parliamentary elections in spring 2008 stemmed from a deep-rooted concern over the “indirect influence” of the Russian presidential elections – also slated for the spring – and the perceived likelihood that “outside forces” would attempt to manipulate Georgia’s conflicts with breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia following a decision on the status of Kosovo. “The snap presidential elections changed the entire attitude,” he said, noting that the new president will now have a “strong enough mandate” to address any threats. “[We] don’t have any difficulty with the date of the elections.” Georgian politicians put rhetoric aside on December 19 and – 17 days before the election – decided on the wording for the country’s two planned plebiscites. While observers had been concerned with the government’s original proposal for the parliamentary election plebiscite, both sides now seem satisfied with the compromise. A plebiscite must be answered with a “yes” or “no” response. For reasons that are not entirely clear, however, the government’s original proposal did not use that answer format, but instead asked voters to choose between elections in autumn or spring 2008. The new version, which was decided by the Central Election Commission, reads: “ Do you agree that the parliament election should be held in the spring of 2008?” “I think the [new version] is quite correct and quite understandable,” commented Eka Siradze-Delaunay, program manager at the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED. Siradze-Delaunay noted that for stakeholders in the pre-election process, the “main issue was…how it [the question] would be formulated.” Davit Usupashvili, a leader of the Republican Party – one of the nine members of the United National Opposition Council backing candidate Levan Gachechiladze – told EurasiaNet that the opposition is also pleased with the new wording. “The final wording which the CEC approved yesterday was the wording that we, the opposition, suggested to [Acting President Nino] Burjanadze two weeks ago,” he said. “The original version that Saakashvili formulated was just misleading and complicated. Now we are satisfied.” Saakashvili campaign spokesperson Bakradze adds that the government’s agreement to the opposition’s plebiscite wording was a “good will gesture.” While the parliamentary election date plebiscite now appears non-controversial, the NATO plebiscite is widely seen as even more of a foregone conclusion. In a voter survey prepared for the International Republican Institute in the fall of 2007, nearly 50 percent of the respondents were in favor of joining NATO. Another 33 percent indicated “probably yes,” while only a scant 6 percent were definitely against joining the alliance. ISFED’s Siradze-Delaunay concedes that “[m]aybe too much attention is being paid to the presidential elections,” but terms the disbalance “understandable.” If the plebiscites were held at a different date, she said, the case would be different. But, for now, public interest in the plebiscites is running close to nil. “No one has told me anything about them,” commented Gayanne, a middle-aged housekeeper on her way to work in downtown Tbilisi. “I don’t know anything [about them].”
American Senator Called upon Russia to Disown Statement on Abkhazia and South Ossetia
The resolution on condemning “provocative and dangerous” statements of Russian official persons about necessity to acknowledge independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and with the demand to the government of RF to disown them as statements violating sovereignty of Georgia and international obligations of Russia has been submitted to the US Senate. The document which was submitted on Thursday for further consideration and voting in the committee of the Senate on foreign affairs was presented by chairman of that committee, senator-democrat Joseph Baiden who was also the candidate for the post of president of the USA. “While stating that Russian Federation must acknowledge Abkhazia and South Ossetia diplomatically as independent states, certain official persons of the government of Russian Federation undermine peace and security in these regions and in republic Georgia”, is noted in the draft resolution. Names of official representatives of the government of Russia who as if made such statements are not mentioned in the document. At the press-conference in Brussels on December 7 Georgian journalist asked head of FM of RF Sergei Lavrov to comment a statement about Russia’s readiness to acknowledge independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The minister said in response that neither President of Russian Federation no the Foreign Ministry made such statements. At the same time, Russian FM is against one sided proclaiming of independence of Kosovo without taking into consideration of Serbia’s position, it stated not once that such decision would become a precedent unacknowledged republics of CIS. Some Russian politicians are for acknowledgment of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In the Resolution submitted to the Senate such statements are named as not corresponding to obligations of Russian Federation on international peacekeeping efforts. THE US Senate “condemns the recent statements of official persons of the government of Russian Federation that RF must acknowledge regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independent on Republic Georgia as violation of sovereignty of Republic Georgia and obligations on international peacekeeping efforts”, is stressed in the document. “The Senate call upon the government of RF to disown these statements”, is pointed out in the resolution. The document notes importance of restoration of territorial integrity of Georgia and there is a call “to all conflicting sides in Republic Georgia and governments of the whole world to abstain from rhetoric which tenses the situation and undermines efforts aimed conflicts settlement by means of talks” in the document.
Minister Slams Timing of HRW Report
The release of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the November 7 events in the middle of a tense election campaign was inappropriate, Justice Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said on December 20. “The timing of this report only serves to damage the reputation of Human Rights Watch and I am sorry that it [HRW] took this step and did not think of its reputation,” Tkeshelashvili said. “A human rights group should not only be unbiased and neutral, but it should also be seen to be.” Speaking on a late-night Imedi TV political talk show, Tkeshelashvili emphasized that her criticism of HRW only applied to this particular case. “I am not analyzing Human Rights Watch’s international credibility,” she said. “Although, its treatment of the United States and in particular the Bush administration has been quite biased.” The HRW report, issued on December 20, said that the November 7 violence had exposed the Georgian government’s “shaky commitment to human rights and the rule of law.” It also called on the west to confront Georgia over the issue. The report followed an earlier one by International Crisis Group. On December 19, the Brussels-based think-tank also called on the west to apply “concerted pressure on Saakashvili and his administration to correct their increasingly authoritarian course.”
Georgia crackdown 'went too far'
US-based rights body Human Rights Watch has accused the Georgian government of "crossing the line" in its crackdown on opposition protests last month.
The group said police had chased and beaten peaceful demonstrators and threatened and intimidated journalists. Water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas were used in November to disperse demonstrators calling for President Mikhail Saakashvili's resignation. Mr Saakashvili briefly imposed a state of emergency before calling snap polls. He faces opposition nominee Levan Gachechiladze in a presidential election on 5 January.
"The Georgian government crossed the line when police chased and beat peaceful demonstrators, and threatened and intimidated journalists," Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch said. The police crackdown on protesters on 7 November was "not legitimate", she said, and had "done serious damage to Georgia's reputation as a champion of human rights". The criticism of the government was echoed by Brussels-based conflict-resolution consultancy, International Crisis Group. In a statement released on Wednesday, the group said the government's "repressive and disproportionate" response had shocked countries in the West that had "viewed Georgia as a beacon of democracy in a region of illiberal regimes". President Saakashvili, a US-educated lawyer, came to power after street protests in 2003, nicknamed the Rose Revolution. His first term as president has seen Georgia strengthen its ties with NATO while relations with Moscow have soured.
Thousands of Georgians recently took part in rallies accusing Mr Saakashvili of corruption and authoritarianism. The protests were the largest Georgia had seen since the Rose Revolution. The demonstrations were eventually put down by police and a brief state of emergency was imposed. The main opposition TV station, Imedi, was also forced off the airwaves, accused of inciting the protesters. It has since begun broadcasting again. A Georgian interior ministry spokesman told the AFP news agency the authorities were investigating alleged "abuse of power" in the police response to the demonstrations. At the time, Mr Saakashvili accused Russian agents of backing opposition protests and said the emergency measures were needed to thwart a "coup" attempt.
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