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The News in Brief

Wednesday, July 16
Parliament discusses troop increase

Georgia will increase the strength of its armed forces by 5 000 troops, bringing the number to 37 000, Nika Rurua, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on defense and security, said on July 14. The change will go before parliament for consideration this week.

“The increase of strength of the Georgian Armed Forces will contribute to the improvement of the country’s defense potential; and this decision is very much compatible with international and NATO standards,” Rurua said. “This will enable us to more successfully comply with international commitments regarding peacekeeping operations undertaken by Georgia.”

Representatives of the parliamentary opposition said they are ready to discuss the issue.

“First of all, we are interested in the motivation of this decision. When our country’s government increased the Defense Ministry’s budget by [GEL] 300 million, it already knew the number of servicemen was also going to increase. However, we were not told about that. We will hold consultations and elaborate our position,” said Levan Vepkhvadze, vice-speaker of parliament.

This month, the government said it would increase funding to the Ministry of Defense by GEL 295 million (USD 209 million) to a total budget of GEL 1.395 billion (USD 990 million). (Black Sea Press)

US/Georgia military exercises begin

Immediate Response 2008, a joint Georgian-American military exercise, had its official opening ceremony yesterday at the Vaziani military base. Approximately 1 000 US and 600 Georgian troops, as well as officers from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, participated.

The exercises will be in two stages: field trainings and command staff exercises, Murad Khomauri, a representative of the Georgian Ministry of Defense, said. They will include “training in shooting, the carrying out of joint humanitarian operations during calamities, and tactical training.”

These exercises will use new technologies, computer systems and simulation centers, Vice Colonel Alexander Osepashvili, Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff of Armed Forces of Georgia, said.

The exercises will also take advantage of the experience of joint operations between Georgian and American troops during the mission in Iraq, and will be held in Vaziani for three weeks. (Black Sea Press)

Georgian director dismisses Azerbaijani teachers

Three Azerbaijani teachers in the settlement of Arikhli in the Kvemo-Kartli region of Georgia have reportedly been dismissed from their school due to their nationality.

The school’s Georgian director, who was earlier dismissed due to a local protest of a local Azerbaijani congress, was restored to her post. Upon her return, she dismissed three teachers who were members of the school’s board.

“The new director wanted Christianity to be taught in the Azerbaijani school… She did not take into consideration cultural and national peculiarities and traditions in her work,” a member of the Azerbaijani congress said. (Black Sea Press)

Bezhashvili appointed chair of Chamber of Control

Parliament, in a special meeting, appointed Levan Bezhashvili as the new chairman of the state auditing agency, called the Chamber of Control, by a 98-1 vote out of a 150-member parliament.

The opposition, which had sought to have someone from its ranks head the agency, was unhappy with the appointment, but does not have the votes to hold up appointments.

Bezhashvili was a former governor of Kakheti and chair of the parliamentary legal issues committee in the previous parliament. He will replace Levan Choladze, who resigned from the position at the beginning of July. (Black Sea Press)

Deputy defense minister visits Iraq

Batu Kutelia, first deputy defense minister, traveled to Iraq on an inspection detail yesterday.

“During the two-day visit, the deputy defense minister will visit the cities of Baghdad and Al-Kut to familiarize himself with the service of Georgian peacekeepers participating in the international peacekeeping operation in this country,” a representative of the ministry said.

This is the second visit of high-ranking Georgian Defense Ministry officials this year. This spring, Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili visited Iraq.

Up to 2 000 Georgian troops and contractors have been serving in Iraq since 2003. (Black Sea Press)

Georgian athletes get more for gold

The state will award Georgian Olympic athletes who win gold medals at the Beijing Olympic Games USD 100 000 per medal.

Officials at the department of sports and youth affairs said athletes who win silver and bronze medals will be awarded USD 70 000 and USD 50 000 per medal, respectively. Coaches of the athletes will also receive awards amounting to half the award money their athletes receive.

These new amounts are double what the government awarded its athletes for the Athens Games four years ago. The current Georgian Olympic team includes 32 competitors. (Black Sea Press)

Georgian foreign minister to visit France

Eka Tkeshelashvili, minister of foreign affairs, will be in France July 16–17.

Tkeshelashvili plans to meet her French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, diplomatic advisor to the French president Jean-David Levitt and secretary general of the French National Defense Francis Delon. (Black Sea Press)