Headlines from Television News:
- Today Nino Burjanadze, Georgia’s acting president and Dieter Boden, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR observer mission in Georgia discussed various preparation works for the upcoming snap presidential elections scheduled for January 5, 2008 in Georgia. The meeting was closed for the mass media representatives. Boden stated after the meeting that OSCE observers, who will be monitoring the elections, will cooperate with other international organizations as well as with non-governmental institutions to ensure that the Georgian elections are held freely, democratically and fairly.
- The Media Council released the monitoring results of local TV stations earlier this afternoon. The monitoring on various news programs and talk-shows of 4 TV stations “Mze,” “Rustavi-2,” “Imedi” and Georgian Public Broadcasting was conducted during December 15-23, 2007. According to the study results, air time is equally assigned to representatives of both the government and opposition. The monitoring does not refer to promotional video clips of presidential candidates, who are standing in the upcoming snap presidential elections scheduled for January 5, 2008 in Georgia.
- Levan Gachechiladze, presidential candidate of the United National Council of oppositional forces presented by the political union “Tavisufleba” (Liberty) is holding his pre-election campaign in Georgia’s Samgrelo region today. Gachechiladze has already met with voters in Chkhorotsku and Tsalenjikha. He summoned the voters to take part in balloting to secure their votes from forging. Gachechiladze also pledged that he did not aim at coming to power as a result of an overthrow. Gachechiladze will then travel to Zugdidi to acquaint the electorate with his presidential program.
- Davit Gamkrelidze, presidential candidate representing the parliamentary oppositional New Right Party is holding his pre-election campaign in Georgia’s Imereti region today. He met with the electorate in Samtredia town and acquainted with his presidential program. Gamkrelidze pledged that in case elected president, Georgia would have fair and objective court system; all enterprises would operate in full capacity within 2 year-term and that 80% of the population would be employed. Gamkrelidze also said that his presidential program also envisaged providing pastures and agricultural equipment to farmers. The presidential candidate also promised improvement of relations with Russia and re-opening of Russia’s consumer market for Georgian products. Gamkrelidze then arrived in Tkibuli and met with voters in the courtyard of St. George Church. A meeting with the electorate is also scheduled in Terjola.
- Giorgi Maisashvili, presidential candidate representing the Initiative Group continues holding meetings with voters. He presented his presidential program to the population at the nearby territory of subway station “Avlabari” earlier today. Maisashvili also visited his 53rd Public School in Tbilisi and talked about various economic reforms as part of his meeting with teachers.
MCG AND GEORGIAN OIL AND GAS CORPORATION SIGNED NEXT AGREEMENT ON MAIN GAS PIPELINE REHABILITATION
December 26, 2007; Source: Sarke Information Agency; Black Sea Press
Millennium Challenge Georgia (MCG) Fund and the Georgian Oil and Gas Corporation of Georgia signed Agreement today on implementation of the II and the III stages of recovery of the gas main North-South. As BLACK SEA PRESS was told at the MCG, the project of recovery of the energy structure was aimed at reconstruction of the very damaged parts of the gas main. Six objects subject to the first-stage recovery were selected on the ground of technical and economic research with support of BP Company. The repair has been carried out there under international standards. 17 parts of the gas main are planned to be repaired under the II and the III stages. The recovery itself will start in summer 2008 upon completion of all preceding procedures, such as tenders, issue of permits, etc. The preliminary cost of the II and III stages makes $25 million. Recovery of the parts of the gas main will improve security and reliability in both Georgia and the South Caucasus. Technical losses will be minimized, and in result, 300 million cubic meters of gas will be economized during a year. Economic effect will make $45 million. *** A contract on earmarking a financial assistance to Georgia worth of USD 295.3 million within the framework of the US governmental program “Millennium Challenge Account” was signed on 13 September 2005. The contract was signed between “Millennium Challenge Corporation” (MCC) and the government of Georgia. Reconstruction of the gas main North-South is a component of the three-year Millennium Challenge Georgia (MCG) project for reconstruction of the energy infrastructure of total cost of $49,5 million. GEL 44,5 million will be allotted for funding of the works for reconstruction of the gas main. The gas main North-South for supply of natural gas from Russia to Georgia and Armenia was constructed in 1970s. The gas main has not been reconstructed since 1980.
TBC-Bank Opened Office In Tbilisi Under Conception Of The American Company
December 25, 2007; Source: Sarke Information Agency; Black Sea Press
New office of TBC-Bank was opened today in Tsereteli Avenue in Tbilisi Didube district. As BLACK SEA PRESS was told at TBC-Bank, absolutely new services would be available at the office by means of direct contacts between the clients and the officials. Service will be provided in the open space, in particular, in order the client be able to follow the procedure. American Consulting Company Senteos has prepared conception for two new offices of TBC-Bank. The Company has implemented over 180 successful projects for different companies worldwide. As planned, all branches of TBC-Bank will operate under the new conception already in 2009. Redesign of the current offices will take place gradually. Banking offices of the above type are operating at only some leading world banks - Deutsche Bank, ABN Amro, City Bank and some others. TBC-Bank plans to open 40 such offices during 2008.
BLOCK GEORGIA TO INVEST $50M IN NEW HOSPITAL CONSTRUCTION
December 26, 2007; Source: Sarke Information Agency
Georgian-Czech LLC Block Georgia intends to invest $50 million in new multi-purpose hospital construction in Digomi area of Tbilisi. The construction is carried out in terms of 1st project of hospital sector development program, envisaging creating no less than 100 beds. However, the company decided to build 300-bed hospital. Construction, covering 30,000 square m, should be ended in a year. The new hospital will employ about 600 people. Just to remind, hospital sector development program “100 new hospitals” envisages construction of 77 hospitals in regions and 23 ones – in Tbilisi, totaled to no less then 7,800 beds. Block Georgia had won contests, held in terms of the mentioned program, several times. Moreover, memorandum on mutual understanding was signed between Georgia and Czech Republic in May 2007. The memorandum envisages Czech investments of 100 million EUR in Georgia hospital sector development.
Fire destroys business owned by ally of arrested ex-minister
December 26, 2007; Source: www.messenger.com.ge
A fire gutted the offices of ARTI Group late on December 23, causing millions of dollars in damage. Firefighters reportedly saved the office containing the company’s computers and archives, but a storage facility was completely destroyed. No one was injured in the blaze. ARTI Group is owned by Kibar Khalvashi, a close associate of arrested ex-minister Irakli Okruashvili. Okruashvili is now in German custody awaiting a ruling on extradition. His arrest on corruption charges, two days after accusing then-president Mikheil Saakashvili of graft and murder, led to mass protests and galvanized the opposition. Khalvashi’s whereabouts are unknown. The Interior Ministry is investigating the cause of the fire, and is expected to release its findings in two weeks. ARTI Group director general Martins Vecvanags complained the fire brigade came too late, with too little. “First, only two fire trucks arrived,” he said, according to the news agency Interpressnews. “Soon they were out of water… Additional fire trucks came 40 minutes later. In the meantime, the fire destroyed everything.” Temur Giorgadze, head of the Tbilisi emergency service, told the Messenger he personally helped put out the ARTI Group fire. Strong winds spread the flames, he said, leading to a two-and-a-half hour battle to extinguish the fire. “There was a call from ARTI Group that the trash had caught fire. We sent a fire tuck, and it arrived in nine minutes. But when we got there, we saw that the whole building was on fire.” “That happened because they were not following safety standards,” he added. Initial reports put damage to the company at more than USD 7 million. A spokeswoman for Aldagi, which insures ARTI Group, said the company’s insurance policy was only for USD 4 million. “We don’t know the exact extent of the real damage,” she said. “But their property is insured for a certain sum, and that is how much we can compensate them.” The spokeswoman wouldn’t speculate as to whether arson is to blame. They will wait for the investigation to finish, she said. The Revenue Service closed ARTI Group for an extensive audit at the end of September, days before Okruashvili’s arrest. The company, Georgia’s sole distributor of Proctor & Gamble products, was boarded up for nearly a month and suffered heavy losses.
Ukraine Supports Democracy in Georgia – Yushchenko
December 26, 2007; Source: www.civil.ge ; Ukrainian Radio
Ukraine is a friend of Georgia and will support the democratic processes in this country, visiting Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko said after talks with acting President Nino Burjanadze on December 25. “I arrived in Georgia to express my solidarity with the democratic processes in Georgia. I want to stress that Ukraine is a country mostly interested in Georgia’s stability,” Yushchenko said. ”I told my friend, [ex-]President Saakashvili, my friends in the government – I will also meet today with the opposition – do not forget that you are Georgians, do not forget that you are responsible for progress in Georgia. The best answer to how Georgia should live can be given only by the Georgians.” “We discussed current developments in Georgia. I told Mr. Yushchenko about our firm intention to hold democratic, free and fair elections in the country,” Burjanadze told reporters after the talks. The Ukrainian president will also meet presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili and senior opposition figures later today.
Patarkatsishvili Forced onto Defensive
December 26, 2007; Source: www.civil.ge
Presidential candidate and business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili has confirmed that he met with a top Interior Ministry official and offered him “a huge amount of money” in exchange for defecting from the authorities. He denied, however, that the bribe was in connection to an alleged coup plot and claimed instead that his intention was to uncover what he said were official plans to rig the election. Patarkatsishvili was speaking in a recorded video message, apparently meant for Imedi TV staff. The recording, however, was, surprisingly, first aired by Rustavi 2 TV late on December 25. Rustavi 2 TV said that it had intercepted the footage when it was being transmitted via satellite. The video address came after the General Prosecutor’s Office released earlier on the same evening a covertly recorded audio tape of a conversation that purportedly took place between Irakli Kodua, head of Special Operations Department (SOD) of the Interior Ministry, and Patarkatsishvili in the latter’s mansion in Britain on December 23. The previous day the General Prosecutor’s Office released two other covertly recorded video conversations between MP Valeri Gelbakhiani, Patarkatsishvili’s campaign spokesman, and Irakli Kodua. The two met in Tbilisi on December 18 and on December 21. All the recordings have been presented by the General Prosecutor’s Office as evidence in support of its contention that a coup had been planned for after the January 5 presidential election. Gelbakhiani has been declared as an official suspect in an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government. In the beginning of his video address Patarkatsishvili thanks Imedi staff for “providing true information about developments in the country.” “I also want to tell you: do not be afraid of anything, we will definitely be able to change this government and the Georgian people will have a democratic government and it does not matter who it will be: Badri Patarkatsishvili, Levan Gachechiladze [presidential candidate backed by the nine-party opposition coalition] or Davit Gamkrelidze [leader of New Rights Party and presidential candidate]. The most important thing for me is to see this regime and its criminal methods gone,” Patarkatsishvili said. He then thanked News Corp. for taking over the management of Imedi TV “in this very difficult time. I am absolutely sure that this company will do its best to protect freedom of speech.” Patarkatsishvili claimed that the authorities had opposed him because of Imedi TV’s “true word.” He then recalled that he had been on good terms with the authorities, but “everything has changed since the death” of PM Zurab Zhvania in February, 2005. Patarkatsishvili also said that he had even agreed to hand over ownership of Mze TV after then President Saakashvili asked him to. He has also claimed that the authorities had offered him USD 1 billion for Imedi TV, but “I said Imedi was not for sale.” Patarkatsishvili told Imedi staff that recently he had observed, what he called, “self-restraint” among Imedi journalists. “I want to advice you: be as free as you have always been and do not restrain yourself, do not be afraid of the authorities,” Patarkatsishvili said. He also dismissed the recent audio and video tapes released by the Georgian authorities, saying their purpose was to overshadow his own allegation that the authorities had planned to kill him. “Valery Gelbakhiani informed me that he had met with Irakli Kodua who told him that he had been instructed by the authorities to bring two truck loads of fake ballot papers to stuff ballot boxes,” Patarkatsishvili said. “Gelbakhiani also told me that Kodua was ready to publicly reveal this information in exchange for a huge amount of money. Of course, I was guessing that it was just a stunt, but if there was even a 1% chance that it was true, I had to use it because by doing so I could help to avert major confrontation. So I agreed to pay the money in exchange for that information.” The audio tape, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office made by Kodua in cooperation with Georgian law enforcement agencies, also has Kodua asking for USD 100 million in exchange for “neutralizing” the interior minister, Vano Merabishvili. “We started to talk about how he could help us,” Patarkatsishvili continued. “So he [Kodua] told me that he controlled 7,000 of the 10,000 people in the Interior Ministry, including two special purpose units; it means 70% of the entire Interior Ministry forces, which was capable of confronting the people [after ballot-rigging]. My offer was aimed at neutralizing these people and creating conditions for them to side with the people. So I was ready to pay a serious amount of money to Kodua. And he had a chance to become a hero by revealing information confirming the authorities’ intention to rig the elections.” Patarkatsishvili’s statement was immediately picked up by ruling part officials, who said that the tycoon’s remarks amounted to “a guilty plea” in relation to the coup allegations. “He has actually confirmed what we have been saying,” MP Givi Targamadze, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for defense and security, said.
More ‘Coup Plot’ Tapes Released
December 25, 2007; Source: www.civil.ge; www.messenger.com.ge ; Black Sea Press
The General Prosecutor’s Office released on December 25 extracts from what it said was a covertly recorded audio tape of a conversation between business tycoon and presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili and Irakli Kodua, head of Special Operations Department (SOD) of the Interior Ministry. The conversation, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office, took place on December 23 in Patarkatsishvili’s mansion in Surrey, England. “This recording was made by Mr. Kodua and was done in agreement with the British secret services, who were kept informed by us,” Nika Gvaramia, the deputy chief prosecutor, said on December 25. “We were not planning to publicize this tape, because of its sensitivity in the midst of an election campaign. But as the Patarkatsishvili campaign has itself started publicizing certain material, we thought it better to respond in kind. In any case, this is a matter of state security. The tape is two hours in length, but we are at this stage releasing a 25-minute extract.” The extract, aired on Georgian TV, begins with a man, said to be Patarkatsishvili, telling Kodua of the importance of creating “an internal split” within the Saakashvili inner-circle. “Everything will be over as soon as that happens,” he says. The conversation then moves to the international context, with claims that Saakashvili was losing international support. “Today the only one helping Saakashvili is Mathew Bryza [the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs] and also his boss, Daniel Fried [the Assistant Secretary],” Patarkatsishvili says. “He has no other defenders. They are helping him because this [referring to Saakashvili] is their project and therefore they do not want to lose the game, together with Misha [Mikheil Saakashvili]. He has no other defenders and even these people will turn their back on him immediately, because to lose Saakashvili is not something very important for them; they don’t care about him.” His interlocutor then asks: “Ok; but let’s say the elections are over and on January 6 Misha is announced as the winner; what then? What are we doing then?” “It is simple, people there will decide,” he replies. “They [apparently referring to the opposition parties] were stupid. They managed to gather 150,000 people at a protest rally [on November 2] and then let them disperse. It was possible to put an end to everything on that very same day. Those people didn’t come out to look at the faces of Levan [Gachechiladze, the nine-party opposition coalition’s presidential candidate] and Shaliko [referring to Shalva Natelashvili, presidential candidate and leader of the Labor Party].” The conversation – through editing of the tape - then jumps with Patarkatsishvili saying: “Today, people are already getting ready. It’s even impossible to get a weapon in Tbilisi, because everybody is preparing.” Neither men in the tape gave a fuller contextualization of this particular comment. Then the two men discuss possible ways of “neutralizing” Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili after the election. Kodua says that although he controls two special purpose units within the Interior Ministry it would be very difficult for him to directly target Merabishvili because of his “devoted security detail.” “Isn’t it possible to make him lose consciousness somehow?” Kodua is asked. He replies: “Yes it is, but there is no way of making it happen immediately.” Patarkatsishvili then says that "it is possible using an injection," but because of security it would be technically impossible. Kodua then says he will be able to give a clearer picture on Thursday, December 27, following meetings with unspecified persons “to clarify what is the situation in the army.” “This [Interior Ministry] is only one link; there are other links as well and all of them should be connected to make one plan,” he says. The two men also discuss financial matters. “Valery [Gelbakhiani, former head of Patarkatsishvili’s campaign] told me that you want USD 100 million. I think that this is too high, but at the same time, I believe that it is equal to the existing risk. So, I agree to give you this sum. I am also ready to transfer some of it in advance to your account. But you’ll be able to withdraw money from that account only after we have made certain progress [in implementing the plan],” Patarkatsishvili tells Kodua. “It’s important to understand that whatever happens, you can be sure that your family will be taken care of, no matter how things turn out.” Shortly before the General Prosecutor’s Office released the audio tape, the Patarkatsishvili campaign office released a short video tape, apparently shot by security cameras at Patarkatsishvili’s mansion, showing several men searching Kodua before meeting with Patarkatsishvili. The campaign office also released a short audio tape, in which Patarkatsishvili tells Kodua that he is “a man of his word” and he will fulfill what he has promised in his pre-election program. It hasn’t been possible to compare the two audio tapes as none of them are available in full versions.
Alleged ‘Coup Plotter’ Sent to Custody
December 26, 2007; Source: www.civil.ge
Tbilisi City Court sent a former judge, Marina Gabunia, who has been charged of taking part in conspiracy to overthrow the government, to a two-month pre-trial custody on December 26. MP Valery Gelbakhiani, who is presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili’s ally, is declared as a suspect into the same case. Gelbakhiani said recently that he was not in Georgia, but was ready to give testimony to investigators only after meeting with representatives either of EU or UN. According to the General Prosecutor’s Office said that the investigation into “an attempt to forcefully overthrow the government” was launched on December 17, after Irakli Kodua, head of the Interior Ministry’s Special Operations Department (SOD), notified investigators that Marina Gabunia and Valery Gelbakhiani had tried to bribe him in exchange for taking part in the alleged conspiracy. Tbilisi City Court said in a statement that a judge declined to release Gabunia on bail as the latter had refused to cooperate with investigators.
Six Journalists Quit Imedi TV
December 26, 2007; Source: www.civil.ge ; Black Sea Press; Prime-News; Interpressnews
Six Imedi TV journalists have quit the station following allegations that presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili, the station's founder, is plotting a coup. All six reporters were working for Imedi TV’s popular weekly Droeba (Times) program hosted by Giorgi Targamadze, head of the station’s political programs. “We are very proud of the years we spent working in Droeba,” journalist Rusudan Tskhomelidze said on December 26 in a written statement on behalf of the six reporters. “None of us has ever acted under pressure or orders from anyone. Throughout the years we have enjoyed total freedom thanks to our team and particularly to the head of Imedi TV’s political programs, Giorgi Targamadze.” “Actions undertaken by the authorities against Imedi TV on November 7 [when the station was shut down in a police raid] were absolutely unacceptable for us, but at the same time processes that have developed in recent days are also absolutely unacceptable. Because Badri Patarkatsishvili ... has been at the center of recent developments, it is unacceptable for us to continue working in Imedi TV, because even our journalistic freedom can now be misused. For that reason we are quitting Imedi TV. We ask you not to give any political interpretation to our decision.” In a video message to Imedi TV staff on December 25 Patarkatsishvili said that recently he had observed, what he called, “self-restraint” among Imedi journalists. “I want to advice you: be as free as you have always been and do not restrain yourself, do not be afraid of the authorities,” Patarkatsishvili said. Imedi TV’s rival television station, Rustavi 2, said after airing this message late last night that Patarkatsishvili had made the appeal knowing that some Imedi TV journalists were about to resign.
Four Election Watchdogs Team Up
December 26, 2007; Source: www.civil.ge ; Prime-News
Four election observer organizations have teamed up to coordinate monitoring efforts and launched media center on December 26. Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Transparency International Georgia and New Generation New Initiative (nGnI) said the media center, set up with support of the Open Society – Georgian Foundation, would provide “timely and reliable information about the monitoring of the 2008 presidential elections, advise voters on the election procedures and collect information on possible violations in the election process.”
New Rights Snub Planned Exit Polls
December 26, 2007; Source: www.civil.ge ; Black Sea Press
New Rights Party, which backs its leader Davit Gamkrelidze in upcoming presidential elections, said it would not trust planned exist polls by four national television stations. Four networks – the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), Rustavi 2 TV, Mze TV and Adjara TV - have jointly commissioned exit polls for the January 5 presidential election and plebiscites. The exit polls will be managed by a team of four organizations – Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), Ilia Chavchavadze State University and two think-tanks - the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS). Six local research groups – IPM, ACT, Sarke, ISSA, ISR, ARC – have been contracted to conduct field work. Exit poll results will be available as soon as polling stations close at 8 pm local time on January 5. Meanwhile, Imedi TV said on December 23 that it had commissioned Dialogue for Development of Democracy to conduct exit polls. Information about what Imedi called a “European foundation” is unavailable. Common European Cause, apparently a Ukraine-based organization, has also announced plans to conduct exit poll. Little in the way of hard information is available on the group, with representatives of the organization even refusing to name their local partners. “We express our mistrust towards planned exist polls by the four television stations,” MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party said at a news conference on December 26. “But we express our trust towards planned parallel vote tabulation [PVT].” Two election watchdog groups, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and New Generation-New Initiative (nGnI), plan PVT, which entails counting votes simultaneously with officials from precinct election commissions. Meanwhile, Dialogue for Development of Democracy, according to Imedi TV, has already conducted public opinion research between December 17 and December 21. The survey showed, Imedi TV said, that 22.1% of the 2,100 surveyed would support Levan Gachechiladze, a presidential candidate backed by the nine-party opposition coalition, followed by Mikheil Saakashvili with 20.3%; Badri Patarkatsishvili (co-owner of Imedi TV) – 19.1%; Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of the Labor Party – 6.5%; Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights Party – 4.9%; Giorgi Maisashvili, leader of Party of Future – 1.1% and Irina Sarishvili, leader of Party of Hope – 0.2%. The survey also showed that 21.7% still remain undecided, according to Imedi TV. The results are in sharp contrast to two previous separate public opinion polls published in December – one by the BCG, which was commissioned by the Saakashvili campaign, and another by ACT research group. Both are Georgian organizations. The BCG survey, which surveyed 13,000 respondents throughout Georgia in December, showed that 29.5% of voters were still undecided. 36.7% said they would vote for Saakashvili, followed by Gachechiladze with 9.7%; Patarkatsishvili – 4.7%; Gamkrelidze - 3%; Natelashvili – 2.5%; Maisashvili and Sarishvili had less than 1% each. One percent said they would vote for none of the candidates. The survey showed that 63.5% of those who have decided to vote for one of the candidates will vote for Saakashvili, followed by Gachechiladze and Patarkatsishvili with 16.7% and 8.1%, respectively. According to the ACT research, which involved 1,500 respondents, 41% will vote for Saakashvili, followed by Gachechiladze – 11.1%; Patarkatsishvili – 6.5%; Natelashvili – 3.5%; Gamkrelidze – 2.1%; Maisashvili and Sarishvili - less than 1% each. 20.6% were undecided and 2.3% said they wouldn’t vote for any candidate. Of those who have decided to vote for one of the candidates, 64% said they would vote for Saakashvili, followed by Gachechiladze and Patarkatsishvili with 17% and 10%, respectively. ACT said that its survey results were initially only available to the company’s “business clients and partners,” but following increasing criticism of public opinion surveys by some political groups, the results were eventually made public.
Georgian newspaper’s informal poll suggests three-way tie for first
December 26, 2007; Source: www.messenger.com.ge
The newspaper Alia has tried its hand at the polling game, publishing the results of 2534 interviews taken up to December 17. Alia’s poll suggests that incumbent presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili, opposition coalition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, and New Rights leader Davit Gamkrelidze are closely matched for first place—and that Saakashvili is well short of the 50 percent he would need to avoid a run-off after the January 5 election. A number of groups have released election polling this month, but none have followed up with any account of their methodology which might validate their results. Questions and locations for Alia’s polling were not available.