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Authorities Under Attack over ‘Ukrainian Meddling’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 20 Jan.'10 / 19:31

Some opposition parties called on January 20 for Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili’s resignation for “roughly interfering” in Ukraine’s presidential elections.

The call comes after a row over about 2,000 Georgian non-registered observers for the Ukrainian elections and after a taped phone conversation purportedly between Merabishvili and Georgian senior lawmaker from the ruling party, Givi Targamadze, was disseminated by Ukrainian media sources.

The taped phone conversation, allegedly made on January 14, was used by politicians from the Ukrainian Party of Regions, led by frontrunner presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, to back its claims that the Georgian authorities wanted to deploy unusually large group of observers in Ukraine and particularly in Yanukovych’s political stronghold, Donetsk, in order “to destabilize elections” in favor of another candidate, PM Yulia Tymoshenko.

The taped conversation of two men with voices similar to MP Givi Targamadze and Interior Minister Merabishvili, available on various Ukrainian websites, is dubbed with the Russian translation and original sound is only heard well in several episodes. The two men are discussing how to arrange sending of additional group from Tbilisi to Donetsk. The man, whose voice is similar to Merabishvili tells his interlocutor to ask “Yulia” to arrange flights to secure arrival of additional teams from Georgia.

Before the January 17 presidential elections, a phone conversation purportedly between President Saakashvili and Yulia Timoshenko was disseminated on the Ukrainian websites in which the interlocutors discuss the problem related with non-registration of the Georgian election observers. The man, whose voice is similar to Saakashvili, tells his interlocutor to talk with “Givi” on the matter.  

Commenting on the matter, MP Givi Targamadze told a Georgian news agency, InterPressNews, that he often speaks with the Interior Minister and the fact that 300 Georgians arrived in Donetsk, who were refused in registration as observers by the Ukrainian CEC, “has never been a secret.”

“I think Ukraine now needs to be focused on more important issue [referring to the second round of election] rather than wasting time on listening my mobile phone conversations,” Targamadze was quoted.

A comment from the Interior Ministry was not immediately available.

Irakli Alasania, the leader of a three-party opposition Alliance for Georgia, said on January 20, that by “roughly interfering” in Ukraine’s internal affairs, President Saakashvili’s administration “has endangered future of good neighborly relations between the two countries and the President of Georgia will bear full responsibility for any possible negative consequences.”

Alasania, who runs for the Tbilisi mayor’s office in the upcoming local elections, said that Interior Minister Merabishvili and Chairman for the Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security Givi Targamadze should resign “because of this political adventure and the scale of damage inflicted on the country’s interests.”

“An interior minister or a chairman of parliamentary committee for defense and security in any country would have resigned in such a situation,” Eka Beselia, leader of Movement for United Georgia, said.

“It is not a business of any interior minister to deal with the issues of sending observers – if they really were observers,” Salome Zourabichvili, leader of Georgia’s Way party, said.

Her party has recently requested the Georgian and Ukrainian authorities to provide with the full list of those people, who the Georgian authorities submitted for registration as election observers. There have been allegations that the list included many persons with no appropriate election experience and employees of the Georgian Interior Ministry.

Zourabichvili said that what the Georgian authorities had done was “a disservice to pro-European forces in Ukraine” – referring to presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ex-parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement-United Georgia (DMUG) party also said in a statement that by “interfering in Ukrainian’s internal affairs” President Saakashvili was “damaging Georgia’s reputation” and “making disservice to one of the presidential candidates.” The party also demanded from Interior Minister Merabishvili to immediately comment on the released taped phone conversation.

Burjanadze also tried to use this case to back her argument about needless of running in upcoming local elections.

“Our party asks the question – does anyone, within or outside Georgia, still has an illusion that Saakashvili and his regime can hold democratic elections after this [case with Ukraine]?! The argument of those, who state that it has a sense to participate in elections under the Saakashvili’s criminal regime, is not understandable for us,” Burjanadze’s party said.

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