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Opposition Rejects Ruling Party’s Response, Calls for Protests
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Feb.'08 / 21:44

The opposition said the ruling party’s response to its demands was totally inappropriate and unacceptable and called on supporters to rally outside Parliament at 2pm local time on February 15.

“This is a shameful response made after three weeks of hysteria, with the authorities telling us they would meet 15 of our 17 demands,” Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party told Civil.Ge. “The continuation of dialogue is impossible in light of this response by the authorities, who have chosen not to meet any of our demands.”

“They are making fun of us,” MP Zviad Dzidziguri said. “They [the authorities] are testing us. They want to see whether people will turn out tomorrow [at the protest rally]. I assure you people will turn out at the rally and it will be a radical protest rally. Now we have no time for having chat with them, we have a responsibility towards our people and we will start consideration together with out people what to do with these dishonest authorities.”

“The response [from the authorities] is much worse than we could have imagined during the consultation process,” MP Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the opposition New Rights Party, which is not part of the nine-party opposition coalition, said. “We have no tangible result on any of the issues. There is no willingness by the authorities to resolve the issues listed [in the opposition’s 17-point memorandum]. They have been ignored.”

The ruling party unveiled a 22-point memorandum laying out its response to the twelve opposition parties’ 17 demands on February 14.
 
“All opposition demands are taken into consideration by this memorandum,” Nino Burjanadze, the parliamentary chairperson, said. "The authorities are outlining very serious proposals and very serious steps have been undertaken to make an agreement possible through consensus. I hope there will be an appropriate response by the opposition.”
 
The nine-party opposition coalition said it was suspending talks with the authorities unless three key demands were immediately met by the authorities: the release of all, what the opposition calls, “political prisoners” and the dismissal of Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) Director-General Tamar Kintsurashvili and Central Election Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili.
 
The ruling party’s 22-point memorandum says in respect of ‘political prisoners’ that “all those arrested in connection with the November 7 events will be released within a week.”
 
The coalition published on February 13 a list of people it wanted released. The list includes nine people jailed on public disorder charges and for disobeying police orders, and another nine on drugs-related charges. The opposition, however, claims that the drugs charges were fabricated  against people who participated in the anti-government rallies. They have also demanded that criminal charges brought against ex-Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and others associated with him be dropped.  The former governor of Shida Kartli region, Mikheil Kareli, who was released on a GEL 200,000 bail bond in October, is among those the opposition is seeking to have all charges against him dropped.
 
In relation to the GPB, the authorities’ memorandum reads that a new GPB director-general will be elected by the new board of trustees, which will itself be elected by Parliament at the end of the month. Tamar Kintsurashvili, the current director-general, said on February 14 that she wouldn’t resign until after the new board was constituted.
 
Regarding the CEC, the memorandum reads: “Based on cross-party consensus and assuming agreement on particular candidates can be reached, the composition of the Central Election Commission will be revised by mid March.”

The authorities have also agreed, as was demanded by the opposition, to set up a parliamentary commission to investigate the alleged excessive use of force by law enforcement bodies during the November 7 events and the alleged intimidation of and attacks on political opponents. The commission, however, will not be formed until after the parliamentary elections. It will also be charged with investigating, what the authorities call, “the attempted overthrow of the government” and “cases involving cooperation with foreign special services.” There have been official allegations that certain opposition politicians were cooperating with Russian intelligence.

The commission, according to the memorandum, will only “give a political assessment” with criminal proceedings against anyone implicated ruled out. “Facts revealed in connection to the November 2007 events should not become the reason for political retaliation and criminal proceedings,” the memorandum reads.

Opposition demands for restructuring of the Interior Ministry and transparent public oversight of law enforcement agencies have also been addressed in the memorandum, with a proposal to set up an all-inclusive commission within a month to develop a reform plan of the Interior Ministry. The resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and newly appointed General Prosecutor Eka Tkeshelashvili, key opposition demands, have not, however, been met. 

To address election-related complaints, the authorities have proposed the establishment of “a Special Council” by the end of March. It will be composed of four to six members agreed on by the authorities and the opposition. “One member, if agreement can be reached, will be selected by a respected international organization,” the memorandum reads.

As was previously agreed, the authorities said they would abolish the first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system of electing majoritarian lawmakers and lower the election threshold from the current 7% to 5% by the end of March.

A constitutional amendment allowing for a new confidence vote for the cabinet after the new parliament is elected has also been promised.

Implementation of the proposals will, according to the memorandum, be conditional on the opposition agreeing to them.

Ruling party lawmakers said that their proposals were a compromise and the opposition’s rejection of it was an attempt to move the political process back onto the street.

“Instead of backing agreements through the signing [of the ruling party’s memorandum] and instead of implementing [the provisions in the memorandum] we receive statements of this type,” ruling party lawmaker Levan Bezhashvili, who was engaged in the talks with the opposition, said. “Some in the opposition still want to move political developments from Parliament onto the streets and create destabilization. I think this effort is doomed to failure.”

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