|Georgian Daily News for January 4, 2008|
|April 05, 2008|
Headlines from Television News:
EBRD Discusses Allocation Of Loan Under Construction Of Metallurgic Mini-Mill In Georgia
The project of crediting construction in Georgia of a metallurgic mini-mill has passed final review at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and it is pending board approval. It is reported at the EBRD official website. The proposed project is for the construction and operation of a steel mini-mill of 175 k ton capacity in Georgia. The plant to be built in Rustavi by Company Geosteel will use local scrap (which is currently exported). Reinforcement bar will be the main product of the steel mill. It is envisaged that the annual production will be sold principally in Georgia and neighbouring Armenia. The project is supported by JSW Steel (Netherlands) B.V., which is part of one of the largest producers of steel in India. Total project cost makes USD 42 million. EBRD finance: up to USD 29 million senior loan, to be syndicated to commercial banks. According to the report, the project has passed the stage of conceptual discussion, and discussion at the EBRD Board is scheduled for the end of January 2008. Worth mentioning, Company Geosteel planned earlier to construct new metallurgic mini-plant for production of grids. The Company started enrolment of both technical and office staffs of some particular specialties. Besides the available infrastructure, the 110-kilovolt sub-station is planned to be constructed. Geosteel is implementing works for preparation of the foundation under the metal-melting shop. The plant is planned to be put in exploitation in June 2008. *** Geosteel Ltd, owner of Rustavi Metallurgic Plant, is the subsidiary of Energy and Industrial Complex that acquired assets of the plant in October 2005 at $21 million. The Energy and Industrial Complex also owns the controlling block of shares of Tuji-XXI (Pig-Iron 21).
EBRD to Provide Mortgage Credit Facility To Georgian TBC-Bank
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) plans to provide mortgage credit facility to the Georgian TBC-Bank. It is reported at the EBRD official website. USD 12 million unsecured mortgage credit facility in two tranches of USD 6 million each will be released. The project has been discussed at the EBRD Board, and it will be signed soon. EBRD funds will be used to provide longer-term financing to individuals for purchasing, renovating, repairing, constructing and/or re-mortgaging their residential property in Georgia. The transition impact will be mainly achieved by providing a residential mortgage credit line to a commercial bank in Georgia, where mortgage loans represent a small share of GDP compared to CEE countries (approximately 3% of GDP, as of June 2007). Further growth of mortgage lending is dependent on the availability of long-term funding. The proposed loan would increase the supply of such funding available to the banking sector and allow an increasing number of people to access bank financing for purchasing, renovating and/or constructing residential property. The EBRD reports reads that the operation will also promote best practice standards as the bank applies EBRD's recommended set of Minimum Standards for Mortgage Lending.
Voters in Georgia go to the polls tomorrow for a presidential election seen as a critical test of the post-Soviet nation's democracy, as the most contentious candidate, multi-millionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, suddenly announced yesterday he was back in the race. The snap election was called by Mikheil Saakashvili, the president, in a calculated gamble to try to renew his mandate almost a year before his term in office expired. His action temporarily defused Georgia's worst political crisis of recent years, after police used teargas to break up mass opposition rallies in Tbilisi last year - bringing sharp international criticism as well as a domestic backlash. In calling the election, Mr Saakashvili has put not only his career but also Georgia's future course on the line, including its fractious relationship with the government in Moscow. A disputed result could endanger the political stability of a staunchly pro-western ally on Russia's southern border. Most opinion surveys suggest that Mr Saakashvili will top the poll over six rivals but it is less certain that he will win the absolute majority needed to avoid a run-off against his nearest rival. The return to the fray of Mr Patarkatsishvili, who made his fortune in Russia as the business partner of Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch, brings intrigue into the race, raising the possibility of further division of an already fragmented opposition. "I hope we can get 60 per cent in the first round," Mr Saakashvili told the Financial Times in an interview on the campaign trail in western Georgia. "It will be much more difficult for us in the second round."These are the most competitive elections held in Georgia thus far. Of course, the political situation is turbulent but that is because we are a democracy. We have made mistakes but we are on the right path." All the opposition parties have focused on the personality of the president, accusing him of aloofness and dictatorial behaviour, especially after breaking up last year's opposition demonstrations. The government's actions were criticised by Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, the US-based watchdogs, as well as by Washington and the European Union. "Things happening in Georgia have been a bit dramatised in the media," said Mr Saakashvili. "This is a largely mainstream country and a democratic one. We have our ups and downs like any country but we are clearly not in a free-fall." He rejected any comparisons with Russia's alleged drift away from democracy. Various polls suggest that Mr Saakashvili could fall short of the 50 per cent threshold required for a first-round win. Levan Gachechiladze, his nearest competitor, backed by a nine-party coalition, could get up to 20 per cent. But in a second round, other opposition candidates could back Mr Gachechiladze, a wine producer and distributor, who is campaigning to abolish the presidency and turn Georgia into a parliamentary democracy. The stage could be set for another tense stand-off. Opposition groups have pulled out of a cross-party exercise to publish exit polls tomorrow, claiming that they would be biased in favour of Mr Saakashvili. They say a first-round victory for the president is possible only with vote-rigging. Mr Patarkatsishvili is one of those accused by the government of planning mass protests against the poll result in order to overthrow Mr Saakashvili, regardless of the election outcome. He was secretly tape-recorded at a meeting in London, where he lives, offering a $100m bribe to a senior policeman to gain his support. The media magnate pulled out of the campaign after the tapes were published, and the journalists at his television station, Imedi, refused to carry on working. His return to the campaign yesterday seems to have caused more confusion, precipitating the resignation of his campaign manager. Mr Saakashvili vowed that the vote would be democratic. At stake, he said, was "whether Georgia will be-come a failed democracy or a true democracy. If I lose the election, the risk is high". He insisted that his administration had achieved a lot by focusing on unpopular structural reforms rather than populist measures such as raising salaries and pensions. But he pledged to boost pensions and salaries during a second term. On the campaign trail in Batumi, a western city once controlled by gangs, he boasted of the fruits of millions of dollars of investment in public and private infrastructure. Such benefits could be extended to the breakaway northern region of Abkhazia if Georgia were able to regain full control of that province, he claimed. But critics claim that economic success has not been shared widely enough and that Mr Saakashvili has been more concerned with burnishing his international reputation than addressing problems at home.
Candidates Meet with International Observers
A group of international observers from OSCE and Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe held separate meeting with six presidential candidates, except of Badri Patarkatsishvili (who is not in Georgia), on January 4, a day before the elections. All the opposition presidential candidates have reiterated their position that election campaign was held in “unfair and unequal conditions.” Incumbent presidential candidate, Mikheil Saakashvili, declined to comment after the meeting. “The election legislation is not liberal. Timeframe was too tight. We had no proper access to media outlets,” Levan Gachechiladze, a presidential candidate backed by the nine-party opposition coalition said. “Black PR campaign is being carried out against us through media sources, including by you [referring to Rustavi 2 TV and Mze]. Unlike Saakashvili we were not able to use administrative resources. Everyday there have been cases of attacks on our activists, who were beaten, or arrested just because they are our activists. We already know about the results of planned exit polls and we know in advance that they [the authorities] are already preparing to celebrate their victory on January 5 [based on results of exist polls]. Does it mean free and fair elections? We will not give Georgia to Saakashvili. It is ruled out.” Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party and a presidential candidate, said that conduct of tomorrow’s election should be assessed in the context of recent developments in the country and in the context of those numerous human rights violations that took place not only in recent months but during Saakashvili’s entire term in office. Giorgi Maisashvili, a presidential candidate and leader of Party of Future, said: “Ex-president has carried out a shameful election campaign… No debates were held either. We [referring to his Party of Future] do not have a representative in the Central Election Commission, while planned exit polls are one of the means of ballot rigging.” “I informed them [international observers] about possible violations,” Irina Sarishvili, a presidential candidate and leader of Party of Hope, said. “I told them what I expect from the elections. These elections will be unfair. Since Saakashvili wants to win in the first round, he will do his best to rig the elections.” Speaking at a news conference, Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Labor Party and a presidential candidate said people in Georgia were ready to change the government “peacefully, through elections.” “The authorities should understand this,” he said “So, they should lay the foundation to peaceful change of governments without any rallies, coups or unrests; without those harmful processes through which the governments have been changing in Georgia for past 15 years.”
Candidate Gachechiladze Unveils Program for 200 Days
Levan Gachechiladze, the nine-party opposition coalition presidential candidate, has outlined the key priorities for a possible Gachechiladze presidency, just two days before polling day. Gachechiladze’s program is presented in bullet point format in a three-page document called 200 Days – the number of days he has said he would stay office if elected. Gachechiladze has promised to scrap the presidential system in favor of a parliamentary one. “I, Levan Gachechiladze promises that violence and injustice will end in Georgia very soon; nobody will be able to touch private property; nobody will be able to intimidate business; there will be no political police and elections will never be rigged. I promise that free media will never be silenced; nobody will have the right to insult the people… Let me keep my promises… I will be a ruler hired by the people and will be accountable only to the people,” Gachechiladze said in Saguramo, near Tbilisi, on January 3. The key priorities of Gachechiladze’s program read:
Saakashvili Campaign Releases Public Opinion Survey
Incumbent presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili has a strong lead over his opponents and can win an outright majority in the first round of elections, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) Research, commissioned by the Saakashvili’s campaign, said on January 3, just two days before the polling day. The survey was based on face-to-face interviews with 1,200 voters throughout Georgia, conducted between December 5-13. Field work was carried out by the local research group, ACT, with the methodology developed by GQR. Saakashvili has the support of 42% of those surveyed, followed by Levan Gachechiladze with 19%; Badri Patarkatsishvili – 11%; Shalva Natelashvili – 5%; Davit Gamkrelidze – 4% and Gia Maisashvili – 1%; 2 percent would not vote or spoil their vote, and 16 percent were undecided, according to the GQR survey. Of the 71% of voters who are most likely to vote on January 5, Saakashvili has 46%; Gachechiladze – 16%; and Patarkatsishvili 11%; among these likely voters, 17% are undecided. By examining how the undecided voters may eventually vote, GQR concluded that Saakashvili may emerge with 52% in a first round ballot, followed by Gachechiladze with 21% and Patarkatsishvili with 14%. The margin of sampling error for the subset of likely voters is plus or minus 3.4%, according to GQR. GQR executive vice president, Dr. Jeremy Rosner, told a group of journalists in a phone conference on January 3, that this figure – 52% - is a result of “a very conservative” methodology that GQR used. He also pointed out that the survey was carried out before the events surrounding Badri Patarkatsishvili, referring to covertly recorded compromising video and audio tapes released by the Georgian authorities implicating Patarkatsishvili and his allies in an alleged coup plot. “Our prediction of 52% for Saakashvili is both conservative and informed by our experience around the world,” he said. “Events since December 13 might actually drive that figure higher.” He also added that there should be “no significant sense of surprise either within Georgia or in the international community” about these results. According to the survey even if the election were to go to a second round, Saakashvili would win among likely voters by a margin of 54-33% against Gachechiladze, and 54-32% against Patarkatsishvili.
Patarkatsishvili Remains in Presidential Race
Business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili retracted his earlier pledge to withdraw from the presidential race and said on January 3 that he would “continue to fight on to be elected president.” “I will not withdraw my candidacy and will continue to fight… to develop Georgia into a true democratic country with an independent parliament and courts,” Patarkatsishvili said in a written statement released by his press office on January 3. “Every objective poll shows that support for Saakashvili does not exceed 20-25%; that is why I am convinced that any higher result would mean that the election had been stolen.” He said that recently he had spoken on the phone with Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II. Although no election-related issues were discussed, Patarkatsishvili said the conversation “has given me the power to declare” his intention to remain in the presidential race. Mentioning of the Georgian Orthodox Church in this context triggered the latter to immediately distance itself from Patarkatsishvili’s remarks…. “All the wiretappings made public by the media are nothing more than a provocation organized by the Georgian special services and have been fabricated only to discredit me,” Patarkatsishvili said in his January 3 statement. “Mr. Saakashvili is not fighting for your well-being or your future. He is clinging to power so that he can escape responsibility for his crimes. Together – and only together – we can defeat the criminal regime.” He also said that he remained committed to his earlier pre-election promises about spending GEL 1.5 billion of his own money for social assistance and for paying consumers' gas and electricity bills for the next 18 months. Few hours later after the written statement was released, Patarkatsishvili has also issued a video address in which he repeated everything what he was saying in the written statement. Only extracts from the video address, not full version of address, were aired by the Georgian televisions which triggered Patarkatsishvili protests. In a separate written statement issued later on January 3, Patarkatsishvili, in particular, complained that those parts of his video address which contained his criticism towards Saakashvili and his pledge to spend GEL 1.5 billion of own money for social assistance programs were not aired. “I demand this address to be broadcasted immediately, and in full, on TV channels Rustavi 2, Mze, Public Television and to stop discrimination,” Patarkatsishvili said. “This case proves once again that on the one hand – the authorities are scared of the truth, and on the other hand that this election campaign does not meet minimum standards for democratic elections.” http://www.civil.ge/eng/detail.php?id=16744
Saakashvili, Opposition Clash over Limits of Power in Georgia
Georgia, the homeland of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, votes tomorrow in an election whose key issue is how much power its leader should be allowed to wield. The presidential campaign pits Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power after ousting Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003's peaceful ``Rose Revolution,'' against Levan Gachechiladze, a former wine producer running at the head of an opposition bloc that accuses Saakashvili of increasingly authoritarian rule. The U.S.-educated Saakashvili, 40, called an early election under Western pressure after imposing a state of emergency in November, when thousands took to the streets of Tbilisi, the capital, to protest low living standards and his government. Gachechiladze, 43, says the president has too much power, and pledges to dilute his authority through a strengthened, freely elected parliament. ``Every single citizen will have an equal chance to elect a real, democratic parliament,'' Gachechiladze said in a telephone interview in Tbilisi yesterday. ``In a maximum of 200 days, I will be able to achieve this.'' The two candidates -- Saakashvili stepped down from office for the campaign, leaving the presidency to an interim head of state -- both lean toward the West. Under Saakashvili, Georgia's relations with Russia deteriorated so much that President Vladimir Putin halted all travel links and banned Georgian imports.
EU, NATO Membership
Georgia has welcomed more than 1,000 international monitors, according to Nino Burjanadze, the interim head of state. That's in contrast to Russia's parliamentary election on Dec. 2, which the main observer body of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe refused to attend, citing ``unprecedented restrictions.'' ``Georgia has committed itself to the utmost transparency for these elections,'' NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in a telephone interview from Brussels. ``NATO will be watching that very closely.'' Western investors haven't been deterred by Saakashvili's November clampdown on opposition protests or the early elections, according to Michael Davey, director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's unit in the Caucasus. ``I don't know of a single investor who has slowed down because of these events,'' Davey said in an interview in Tbilisi last month. Georgia's economy grew by 13.2 percent in the third quarter from the same period in 2006. By contrast, Ukraine's gross domestic product rose by 6.4 percent in the same period.
Georgia's Ex-Leader Puts In Final Spurt On Comeback Trail
Saakashvili Had Resigned Presidency After Criticism of Crackdown on Protests
TELAVI, Georgia -- Before his helicopter touches down, Mikheil Saakashvili already has his hand on the door handle. A bodyguard leans forward but can't restrain him long; within seconds, Misha, as Georgia's former president and now campaigning candidate is informally known, has jumped out, ducked into a black SUV, and is barreling at top speed through the countryside. In Telavi, the capital of Georgia's wine region, he unfolds his broad 6-foot-3-inch frame from the car and grabs a microphone. "I live for you," he booms to a crowd in the street. "You can't imagine what it means when you smile for me." Then he's off to a local university; by the end of the afternoon he has hit a church, a theater, a vineyard and a farmhouse, chased after by out-of-breath assistants, bodyguards and TV crews. Saakashvili, 40, has spent every day of the past month like this, on an intensive, often frantic, 41-day presidential campaign that culminates when voters go to the polls Saturday. "I love campaigns," he says with a grin as the helicopter lifts off again. "It's like a boxing championship; you go up and up and up, until the last one." But this campaign, meant to be his last, wasn't supposed to happen this way. His term as president was slated to last through 2008. But he cut it short in November to defuse a crisis that began when he sent out baton-swinging riot police after five days of peaceful anti-government demonstrations, accusing the protesters of being stooges of Georgia's rival, Russia. Police also raided and violently shut down a popular opposition TV station. The tactics angered many Georgians and shocked allies of this former Soviet republic; the United States had praised Georgia under Saakashvili as a successful new democracy. Western governments and human rights organizations condemned the police attacks, saying Saakashvili had taken a troubling authoritarian turn, and some analysts said the country could fall into military rule or civil war. But the next day Saakashvili had a surprise response: He moved the presidential election ahead to Jan. 5, which required him to step down and run again. Georgians, he declared, would show with their ballots whether they supported him. A former member of parliament and justice minister, Saakashvili came to power in 2004 by leading the bloodless Rose Revolution, which swept out the corrupt government of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Shortly afterward, he was elected with 97 percent of the vote, in an election that monitors ruled essentially clean despite his enormous tally. In Washington, the charismatic, American-educated leader became a golden boy. A Columbia- and George Washington University-educated lawyer, he set about trying to reform a collapsing bureaucracy at the same breakneck speed he seems to use in everything. He encouraged foreign investment, repaired roads, replaced a corrupt police force, and brought reliable gas and electricity service. He pushed for membership in the European Union and NATO, reined in a rebellious autonomous region and moved to win back two breakaway regions along the Russian border. He became known for scheduling state business after midnight, treating visitors to impromptu rides on Ferris wheels and showing up in unexpected places, such as a conflict zone where he confronted Russian soldiers (an event captured on film and replayed repeatedly on television). The United States helped train the Georgian military and selected the country for a $300 million Millennium Challenge grant. President Bush called Georgia a "beacon of democracy," and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) nominated Saakashvili for the Nobel Peace Prize. But critics accused him of creeping authoritarianism and infringements on free speech and the rule of law. He promoted big business and international investment at the expense of ordinary people, they said, and some charged that his bluster was unnecessarily escalating tensions with Russia over trade, energy and border disputes. Saakashvili dismissed the critics as Soviet retrogrades and during the protest crisis accused opposition leaders of being part of a pro-Russian intended coup. Now, however, the special forces are nowhere in sight and Saakashvili is presenting himself as a compromiser. He has pledged to bring new figures into his cabinet and to focus on poverty and unemployment. In one TV ad, as he listens to a war refugee describe his hard life, a tear rolls down his cheek -- which he insists was real. "Of course I was crying," he said. "If not for the health insurance that we gave them three months ago he would have been dead by now, that's what they told me." Jonathan Kulick, director of studies at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, said Saakashvili's approach has changed. "He became more avuncular," he said, adding that his style now is more like "chatting with the waitress in the diner in New Hampshire or talking to the farmer in Iowa about the price of soybeans."
Although televised debates between the actual presidential candidates never happened, the spouses of three candidates battled it out on the Rustavi 2 TV late-night political talk show, Primetime. Sandra Roelofs, 39, the wife of incumbent candidate Mikheil Saakashvili; Marina Madichi, 41, the wife of New Rights Party leader Davit Gamkrelidze; and Bela Alania, 44, the wife of Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili, participated. Ingra Grigolia, the host, said Levan Gachechiladze’s wife, Nino Mikeladze, had declined her invitation to participate. The debate mostly involved the spouses defending their husbands’ political stances, with sharp words sometimes being exchanged. Natelashvili’s wife, Bela Alania said she would not have advised her husband to run for re-election after what had happened on November 7. Doing everything, she said, just for the sake of power – for what she called “the presidential chair” – was not something she would recommend her husband to do. The former first lady immediately hit back, saying: “My husband [Mikheil Saakashvili] has proven that it is not about the presidential chair; he has made an unprecedented decision and cut his own term in office by over a year.” Indeed, she continued, Saakashvili was the only candidate capable of handling “the serious challenges” that Georgia faced. “Saakashvili has experience, an international reputation and, maybe other candidates are good individuals, but to rule the country is very difficult,” Roelofs said. Marina Madichi, Davit Gamkrelidze’s wife, in a rare moment of verbal combativeness, jumped in at this stage, saying: “Georgia’s history has not started with this government and will not end with this government.” Meanwhile, the real debate between Alania and Roelofs continued, with Alania saying it was difficult to rule in a country with no genuine system of checks and balances. “Of course it is difficult when one person is in charge of everything – the mayor’s office, Parliament and the entire government,” she said. “Power should be distributed among different branches of the government.” When asked to describe their respective husbands, Roelofs said hers was “a man of his word;” Alania responded that Natelashvili was “very principled and hard-working” and Madichi said Gamkrelidze was “a just and fair person.”
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