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Archive for the ‘South Caucasus’ Category

Georgia ‘will join NATO’: Stoltenberg

Tbilisi (AFP)

March 25, 2019

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday reiterated the bloc’s commitment to grant former Soviet republic Georgia eventual membership despite Moscow’s fierce opposition.

Stoltenberg was in the Georgian capital Tbilisi to attend 12-day joint NATO-Georgia military exercises that kicked off last week.

“The 29 allies have clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO,” Stoltenberg told a news conference alongside the country’s Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze.

“We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia’s NATO membership.”

In an apparent reference to Russia, he said that no country had the right to influence NATO’s open-door policy.

“We are not accepting that Russia — or any other power — can decide what (NATO) members can do,” he said.

At a 2008 summit in Romania, NATO leaders said Georgia would join the bloc at an unspecified future date but have so far refused to put the country on a formal path to membership.

The prospect of Georgia joining NATO is seen by the Kremlin as a Western incursion into its traditional sphere of influence.

Bakhtadze said for his part that Moscow had no right to prevent a sovereign country from choosing “its security arrangements”.

“NATO membership is the choice of the Georgian people and is enshrined in our constitution,” he said.

Held at the Krtsanisi Georgia-NATO Joint Training and Evaluation Center outside Tbilisi, the joint drills involve 350 servicemen from the US, Britain, France, Germany and 17 other allied nations as well as Azerbaijan, Finland, and Sweden.

Tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow over Georgia’s pro-Western trajectory and control of the Black Sea nation’s breakaway regions led to a brief but bloody war in 2008.

During the conflict over Moscow-backed separatist regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia routed Georgia’s small military in just five days and recognized the independence of the breakaway territories.

Moscow then stationed military bases there in what the West and Tbilisi have denounced as an “illegal military occupation.”

Last year, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Georgia’s eventual NATO entry “could provoke a terrible conflict”.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Georgia_will_join_NATO_Stoltenberg_999.html.

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Georgia’s 1st woman president is inaugurated amid protests

December 16, 2018

VELISTSIKHE, Georgia (AP) — The first woman president of Georgia has been sworn into office amid continued protests from opposition figures who allege her election was tainted. President Salome Zurabishvili said during her inauguration speech on Sunday that she would work “to promote our country’s integration process into NATO and the EU.”

Opposition activists clashed with police after authorities blocked access to the inauguration’s venue in the city of Telavi. Zurabishvili, a French-born former foreign minister, won a November 28 runoff against opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze. The government favored her in the race.

The opposition alleges gross electoral violations occurred during the presidential election that make the outcome illegitimate. Observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have said the government was overly involved in the election campaign.

Alleged election malfeasance protested in Georgian capital

December 02, 2018

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Thousands of opposition protesters took to the streets of Georgia’s capital to dispute the result of a recent presidential election and to call for an early parliamentary election.

The protesters marched with sacks of onions and potatoes on Sunday to mock what they claim were government efforts to bribe voters by distributing free vegetables. Opposition leaders claim the government tilted the vote in the winning candidate’s favor.

Official returns showed former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili won the Nov. 28 presidential runoff with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Her opponent, Grigol Vashadze, pulled in just over 40 percent.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has said the election was administered well, but that state resources were misused in the campaign and “one side enjoyed an undue advantage.”

French-born diplomat claims victory in Georgia vote

November 28, 2018

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — A French-born former foreign minister of Georgia celebrated what she claims is her victory in a tight presidential runoff Wednesday that marks the last time Georgians elect their head of state by popular vote.

An exit poll conducted by Edison Research for Rustavi 2 television showed the 66-year-old Salome Zurabishvili backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party winning 55 percent of the vote, while her rival, the 60-year-old Grigol Vashadze, who was supported by a coalition of opposition forces, was trailing behind with 45 percent.

The Central Election Commission said that with just over half of all the precincts counted, Zurabishvili was leading with 58 percent while Vashadze had 42 percent of the ballot. Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0400 GMT) and closed at 8 p.m. (1600 GMT).

Edison Research interviewed 15,000 voters across 115 precincts in Georgia. It said its poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Vashadze, who also served a stint as Georgia’s foreign minister, refused to concede defeat, saying he would wait for full preliminary results, which are expected Thursday.

Georgia, a nation of nearly 4 million people in the volatile Caucasus region south of Russia, is transitioning to a parliamentary republic. Presidential powers have been substantially reduced with the prime minister becoming the most powerful figure in the country. After the new president’s six-year term ends, future heads of state will be chosen by delegates.

“Our choice is peaceful Georgia, united country and of equal citizens,” Zurabishvili said after seeing the exit poll showing her victory. “Our choice is the dialogue with those parts of the society who today has not voted for me and who today don’t agree with us. But we all are citizens of one country.”

Though the election lacks the usual importance, it is seen as a crucial test for Georgian Dream that is led and funded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili who made his fortune in Russia. It has dominated the nation’s political scene since defeating former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement in 2012. Ivanishvili briefly served as prime minister in 2012-2013 and has remained a prominent force in Georgian politics ever since.

After the polls closed, Saakashvili spoke on Rustavi 2 television, claiming that the vote was rigged and calling for protests to annul the results. Zurabishvili ran as an independent but was backed by Georgian Dream, while Vashadze was supported by a coalition that includes the United National Movement. They won 39 and 38 percent respectively in the first round last month.

Zurabishvili was born in France and served as French ambassador to Georgia until becoming Georgia’s foreign minister in 2004. She was fired the following year and some Georgians still look at her foreign background with suspicion and criticize her for her contention that Georgia started the 2008 war with Russia.

Zurabishvili’s opponents cast her as a pro-Russia candidate — the claim she and Georgian Dream strongly denied. Zurabishvili argued that her background is a strong qualification for serving as Georgian president as the country seeks closer ties with the European Union.

“Diplomatic work in France for me was also a work for Georgia,” Zurabishvili said. “Everyone knew that I am Georgian who fights for its country. I knew very well the price of independence and freedom, because I am the child of the country whose ancestors have sacrificed themselves for the independence and freedom.”

Vashadze, who served as Georgia’s foreign minister in 2008-2012, vowed to re-establish control over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by peaceful means. Georgia entirely lost control over both provinces after the war with Russia a decade ago, which erupted when Saakashvili made a failed attempt to reclaim sovereignty over South Ossetia.

“Georgia has outlived many empires and will definitely outlive the current Russian empire,” Vashadze said. He also vowed to pardon Saakashvili, who was stripped of his citizenship in 2015 and sentenced in absentia for abuse of power.

Observers saw the vote as a key test before the 2020 parliamentary election. “For Georgian Dream, the stakes are especially high and it struggles very much … to win in the second round,” said Gia Nodia, the founder of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, an independent think-tank.

Earlier this month, the Georgian government announced that a charitable foundation controlled by Ivanishvili promised to write off the debts of 600,000 people, a move described by critics as an attempt to buy votes before the runoff.

Georgians set to vote in hotly contested presidential runoff

November 28, 2018

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Two of Georgia’s former foreign ministers are facing off against each other Wednesday in a tight runoff that will mark the last time Georgians elect their head of state by popular vote.

Georgia, a nation of nearly 4 million people in the volatile Caucasus region south of Russia, is transitioning to a parliamentary republic. Presidential powers have been substantially reduced with the prime minister becoming the most powerful figure in the country. After the new president’s six-year term ends, future heads of state will be chosen by delegates.

Though the election lacks the usual importance, it is seen as a crucial test for the ruling Georgian Dream party which is led and funded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili who made his fortune in Russia.

It has dominated the nation’s political scene since defeating former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement in 2012. Ivanishvili briefly served as prime minister in 2012-2013 and has remained a prominent force in Georgian politics ever since.

In the runoff, Salome Zurabishvili is backed by Georgian Dream and Grigol Vashadze is supported by a coalition that includes the United National Movement. They won 39 and 38 percent respectively in the first round last month.

Zurabishvili, 66 was born in France and served as French ambassador to Georgia until becoming Georgia’s Foreign Minister in 2004. She was sacked the following year and some Georgians still look at her foreign background with suspicion and criticize her for her contention that Georgia started the 2008 war with Russia.

Zurabishvili’s opponents cast her as a pro-Russia candidate — the claim she and Georgian Dream hotly deny. Zurabishvili argues that her background is a strong qualification for serving as Georgian president as the country seeks closer ties with the European Union.

“Diplomatic work in France for me was also a work for Georgia,” Zurabishvili said. “Everyone knew that I am Georgian who fights for its country. I knew very well the price of independence and freedom, because I am the child of the country whose ancestors have sacrificed themselves for the independence and freedom.”

Vashadze, 60, who served as Georgia’s foreign minister in 2008-2012, vowed to re-establish control over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by peaceful means. Georgia entirely lost control over both provinces after the war with Russia a decade ago, which erupted when Saakashvili made a failed attempt to reclaim sovereignty over South Ossetia.

“Georgia has outlived many empires and will definitely outlive the current Russian empire,” Vashadze said. He also vowed to pardon Saakashvili, who was stripped of his citizenship in 2015 and sentenced in absentia for abuse of power.

Observers see the vote as a key test before the parliamentary elections in 2020. “For Georgian Dream, the stakes are especially high and it struggles very much … to win in the second round,” said Gia Nodia, the founder of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, an independent think-tank.

Earlier this month, the Georgian government announced that a charitable foundation controlled by Ivanishvili promised to write off the debts of 600,000 people, a move described by critics as an attempt to buy votes ahead of the runoff.

Armenia premier’s bloc winning vote, early returns show

December 09, 2018

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Early returns from Armenia’s snap parliamentary election Sunday show the country’s new prime minister’s bloc with a commanding lead — an outcome that would help further consolidate his power.

The charismatic 43-year-old Nikol Pashinian took office in May after spearheading massive protests that forced his predecessor to step down. Pashinian has pushed for early vote to win control of a parliament that was dominated by his political foes.

An ex-journalist turned politician, Pashinian has won broad popularity, tapping into public anger over widespread poverty, high unemployment and rampant corruption in the landlocked former Soviet nation of 3 million that borders Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran.

With 185 out of the nation’s 2,010 precincts counted, Pashinian’s My Step was garnering 66 percent of the vote, while the Republican Party that controlled the old parliament was a distant fourth with just under 4 percent, struggling to overcome a 5-percent barrier to make it into parliament. The pro-business Prosperous Armenia party was coming second with about 11 percent of the ballot, and the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party was winning about 8 percent.

By the time the polls closed at 8 p.m. (1600 GMT, 11 a.m. EST), 49 percent of the nation’s eligible voters cast ballots. Full preliminary results are expected Monday. Pashinian exuded confidence after casting his ballot in Yerevan, saying that he was sure that his bloc will win a majority in parliament.

During the monthlong campaign, Pashinian has blasted members of the old elite as corrupt and pledged to revive the economy, create new jobs and encourage more Armenians to return home. “An economic revolution is our top priority,” Pashinian told reporters Sunday.

Armenia has suffered from an economic blockade stemming from the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a six-year separatist war in 1994. Attempts to negotiate a peace settlement have stalled and fighting has occasionally flared up between ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan’s soldiers.

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have closed their borders with Armenia over the conflict, cutting trade and leaving Armenia in semi-isolation. The country has direct land access only to Georgia and Iran. About one-third of Armenia’s population has moved to live and work abroad and remittances from those who have left account for around 14 percent of the country’s annual GDP.

After seven months on the job, Pashinian has remained widely popular, particularly among the young. “Pashinian has put fresh blood in our veins. I believe in the future of Armenia,” said computer expert Grigor Meliksetian, 24.

Others weren’t so optimistic. Bella Nazarian, an entrepreneur, said Pashinian has skillfully manipulated public hopes. “He’s a populist and a liar,” she said. “I believe that people’s eyes will open as early as the coming spring.”

Saak Mkhitarian, 37, a video engineer, said he was worried about what he described as Pashinian’s divisive rhetoric. “He wants to create an internal enemy and hates those who don’t share his beliefs,” Mkhitarian said.

Pashinian was the driving force behind the protests that erupted in April when Serzh Sargsyan, who had served as Armenia’s president for a decade, moved into the prime minister’s seat, a move seen by critics as an attempt to hold on to power. Thousands of protesters led by Pashinian thronged the Armenian capital, and Sargsyan resigned after only six days on the job.

Sargsyan has stayed out of the public eye since stepping down and refused to answer reporters’ questions after voting Sunday. His Republican Party has largely remained on the defensive.

Armenians vote for parliament; PM looks to bolster support

December 09, 2018

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenians cast ballots Sunday in an early parliamentary election that was expected to further consolidate the power of the nation’s new prime minister. The charismatic 43-year-old Nikol Pashinian took office in May after spearheading massive protests against his predecessor’s power grab which forced that politician to step down. Pashinian has pushed for early vote to win control of a parliament that was dominated by his political foes.

Pashinian, an ex-journalist turned politician, has won broad popularity, tapping into public anger over widespread poverty, high unemployment and rampant corruption in the landlocked former Soviet nation of 3 million that borders Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran.

Opinion polls indicate that Pashinian’s My Step alliance is set to sweep the vote, while the Republican Party that controlled the old parliament is trailing. Pashinian exuded confidence after casting his ballot in Yerevan, saying that he was sure that his bloc will win a majority in parliament.

During the monthlong campaign, Pashinian has blasted members of the old elite as corrupt and pledged to revive the economy, create new jobs and encourage more Armenians to return home. “An economic revolution is our top priority,” Pashinian told reporters Sunday.

Armenia has suffered from an economic blockade stemming from the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a six-year separatist war in 1994. Attempts to negotiate a peace settlement have stalled and fighting has occasionally flared up between ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan’s soldiers.

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have closed their borders with Armenia over the conflict, cutting trade and leaving Armenia in semi-isolation. The country has direct land access only to Georgia and Iran. About one-third of Armenia’s population has moved to live and work abroad and remittances from those who have left account for around 14 percent of the country’s annual GDP.

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