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The News in Brief

Friday, January 25
Mikheil Saakashvili was sworn in for his second term as Georgia’s president, while opposition campaigners protested what they say was a rigged election. In his inauguration speech, Saakashvili pledged to fight poverty, improve relations with Moscow, find common ground with the opposition and continue Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Opposition leaders, however, refuse to recognize Saakashvili’s reelection as legitimate.

In a reminder that old disagreements haven’t gone away, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Georgia to sign non-resumption of violence pacts with separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi has always refused to do so, saying it would amount to a truce between neighboring states.

An OSCE/ODIHR interim report strongly criticized election day conduct, ballot counting and the consideration of complaints after the January 5 presidential election. The Georgian government either dismissed as technical issues or flatly contradicted most of the shortcomings the OSCE identified.

PACE rapporteur Matyas Eorsi reported that the presidential election was essentially fair, but that serious problems and violations “tainted the overall election process.”

A few hundred protestors rallied outside the US embassy in Tbilisi to accuse Washington of supporting election fraud in Georgia. People’s Party leader Koba Davitashvili, a member of the nine-party opposition coalition, organized the demonstration without the rest of the coalition to protest what he said was undemocratic US support for Saakashvili. Protests of the US embassy are extremely unusual in Georgia, and local analysts have warned of rising anti-Washington sentiments here.

Prosecutors charged Valeri Gelbakhiani, an ally of fugitive tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, with plotting to overthrow the government. In late December, authorities released a secretly recorded videotape of Gelbakhiani allegedly detailing a post-election coup plot orchestrated by Patarkatsishvili, who was then running for president. Gelbakhiani, an MP and one-time head of Patarkatsishvili’s presidential campaign, has been out of the country since the tape was released.

De facto South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity proposed a personal meeting with Mikheil Saakashvili, saying he would request a peace pact and a special economic zone covering both Georgian and separatist-controlled territory. Tbilisi replied that Kokoity would need to offer serious proposals for conflict resolution—which Georgia says must include the return of breakaway South Ossetia to state control—before any meeting could happen.

Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava announced staffing changes in the capital’s administration, presenting a new vice-mayor and two new district heads. The Isani Samgori district head was reassigned, and his post filled by the Isani Samgori chair of the ruling party. Samgori was one of only two districts in Tbilisi where Mikheil Saakashvili beat opposition challenger Levan Gachechiladze in the presidential election.

Giorgi Bagration-Mukhraneli, a claimant to the headship of Georgia’s Bagrationi dynasty, died aged 63 in Tbilisi. He grew up in Spain, the son of a prince of the Mukhrani branch of the royal family forced to leave Georgia during the 1921 Red Army invasion.