Thursday, 11 August, 2022

Georgia braces for pro-EU rally, government under fire

TBILISI: Georgians braced for a new mass rally on Sunday demanding that the government resign over its failure to formally secure the candidacy for the European Union membership, reports AFP.

The Black Sea nation has been in a grip of mass protests since EU leaders decided in late June to defer the country's membership application pending sweeping political reforms.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in the biggest demonstrations in decades, organised by the country's leading pro-democracy groups and supported by opposition parties.

"We demand that (the ruling party founder) oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili relinquish the executive power and transfer it, in a constitutional manner, to a government of national accord," the rally organisers said on Facebook ahead of the demonstration on Sunday.

A new cabinet "will carry out the reforms required by the EU, which will automatically bring us the status of an EU membership candidate."

Ivanishvili, Georgia's richest man, is widely believed to be calling the shots in Georgia despite having no official political role.

Last month, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution to impose personal sanctions on Ivanishvili for his "destructive role" in Georgia's political and economic life.

He insists he has retired from politics.

Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova, days after Russia launched all-out war on Ukraine.

On June 23, EU leaders granted formal candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau, but said Tbilisi could only become an official candidate once outstanding issues were addressed.

The EU leaders have nonetheless "recognised Georgia's European perspective", a move President Salome Zurabishvili has hailed as "historic".

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has said his government was "mobilised" to meet EU requirements on time "so that we get candidate status as soon as possible".

The deferral of Georgia's candidacy had been a foregone conclusion after the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- said on June 20 that Tbilisi must implement a number of reforms by the end of 2022 before it is put on a formal membership path.

The EU conditions for granting Georgia candidate status include ending political polarisation, improving the freedom of the press and the courts, electoral reforms and "de-oligarchisation".

"They (Georgians) have a clear path... When these criteria are met, the candidate status will be granted automatically," the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said on June 23.

The ruling Georgian Dream party's government has faced mounting international criticism over perceived backsliding on democracy, seriously damaging Tbilisi's ties with Brussels.

The party has defended its democratic record and accused the opposition of "plans to overthrow the authorities by organising anti-government rallies".

Membership to the EU and NATO is enshrined in Georgia's constitution and, multiple opinion polls have showed, is supported by at least 80 percent of the population.