New PM Vano Merabishvili said on July 10, that he did not know “politician” Bidzina Ivanishvili, but knew philanthropist Ivanishvili with whom he’d had frequent contacts, helping him in his charitable activities.
“I can say one thing about batoni [a Georgian polite form of addressing a man] Bidzina: I do not know him as a politician. I know him very well as a person, who has been carrying out charitable activities for years; moreover, I was meeting him very often and I was assisting him in his [charitable] activities; I was helping him in implementing his charitable work more effectively,” PM Merabishvili said in an interview with the Tbilisi-based Maestro TV.
“But politically I can assess only those people who are around him [in his Georgian Dream coalition], because I know these people very well for years already – I will not name them… all of them [within the coalition]… My opinion about them and the position of the Georgian people about these people, I think, coincide,” Merabishvili said.
He made the remarks after a journalist, Nino Zhizhilashvili, asked him what he thought about Ivanishvili, who has praised Merabishvili for number of times calling him “a good manager with many positive traits” and most recently he described Merabishvili as one of the “thinkers” within President Saakashvili’s circle; Ivanishvili, however, also added in his remarks on July 9 that Merabishvili was now “on a wrong path” and denied having any “behind-the-scenes links” with him.
After his initial response on the issue, Merabishvili was asked by the interviewer did not he have the same opinion about Ivanishvili like other senior officials from the ruling party, who were targeting personally Ivanishvili, denouncing him as a Kremlin stooge.
“I have already articulated my view about batoni Bidzina and I think I did it exhaustively,” Merabishvili responded, but he was further pressed on the issue when the interviewer asked him if his answers meant that his views about Ivanishvili were “more positive.”
“When I had relations with him, not with a politician, but with a person who was trying to carry out certain charitable activities, certain projects, I was welcoming his [work] and furthermore I was participating in those activities by actively fostering his [charitable efforts]. We had frequent contacts – both through face-to-face meetings and phone conversations – and I was helping him with great pleasure with a purpose of making his activities more useful for the people. [In his role of] a politician I know him [Ivanishvili] less. But I repeat, unfortunately, I do know many of those people who are around him, who, perhaps, define his political views,” he said.
“I have said what I wanted to say about him,” Merabishvili added.
In the same 15-minute interview, Merabishvili, who was the Interior Minister for more than seven years before becoming the PM last week, was also asked about a high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani.
The case turned into the key political issue in 2006 and it was reemerging time after time in Georgia’s politics, because of persisting allegations that the investigation covered up possible links of senior Interior Ministry officials, as well as of wife of Merabishvili, to this murder case.
“For any case in which the rights of a Georgian citizen have been infringed, any case that occurred during my tenure as [the interior] minister – no matter I was personally involved or not, or if any other police official was involved – I assume responsibility and I will assume responsibility in the future too and I will answer to any question,” PM Merabishvili said.
“It [the Girgvliani murder case] was not the only case, unfortunately, which did not speak positively about our ministry, there were many other cases too and we had to take many difficult decisions; but just because of passing these tests, we managed to achieve a situation wherein the Georgian police enjoy now one of the highest confidence rating and what is the most important citizen of Georgia feel safe… We can speak much about a specific case, but what matters is results that we now have and what we can do in the future to give more benefit to the people,” he added.
When asked whether he had an ambition of becoming the Georgian leader by staying as PM after this position gains significantly more powers at the expense of those of the president after the 2013 presidential elections, Merabishvili responded: “The Georgian President has instructed me to develop a four-year action plan. This plan is in place and we have already started its implementation.”
“Of course the Georgian people will have the final say; the Georgian people have to decide whether they want to proceed with this action plan or not,” Merabishvili said. “I hope and I am sure that the Georgian people will make a decision, which they have to make, and will support the plan developed by us.”
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