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Saakashvili meets state university students behind closed doors

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, May 13
President Mikheil Saakashvili's meetings at two leading universities in Tbilisi were accompanied by protest rallies. The meetings were held on May 10-11at Tbilisi State University (TSU) and Ilia State University. The president answered questions students had on various issues. Both meetings were closed to media.

President was asked questions about the labor code, the Gldani prison scandal, the Law on Occupation, the education system and many other issues. According to the students, the president spoke about his own mistakes and even criticized himself.

The protest rally in the TSU was organized by former political prisoners Melor Vachnadze, Giorgi Gabedava and Tristan Tsitelashvili. They were joined by students and other former political prisoners. Vachnadze, who is an MA student at the same university, was protesting the fact that he and his friends were not given a chance to attend the meeting.

Neither meeting at Ilia University could be held without rallies. Students were protesting in front of the university building. They said that despite following the necessary online registration procedures, they were not allowed to attend the meeting, accusing the president and university administrations that participants of the meeting had been chosen according to their political views, hence only those who support United National Movement were able to meet with the president.

However Saakashvili still had to answer unpleasant questions. According to one of the students, Saakashvili spoke about the August War with Russia and said that Georgia won the war. The president became very angry when the student reminded him that Georgia lost the war and also accused him in loosing territories. "He became very angry as he usually is," the student said after the meeting, adding that the students reminded Saakashvili of all the major problems society had to face during his presidential term.

According to Ilia University students, Saakashvili answered nearly all the questions, but he still tried to avoid those that were unpleasant for him.

On the same day it was announced that President Saakashvili used his veto power to block a bill allowing non-commercial legal entities of private law, to change their status into entities of public law. The bill drafted by the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) had originally caused a controversy. Heads of Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University feared that the bill would be applied to the universities and lead to limiting their autonomy and called on Saakashvili to veto it.

Giorgi Margvelashvili, Education Minister and Deputy PM commented on issues and said that the bill has been drafted to end the "legal but absurd status" state universities have been in recently. "Therefore, we are carrying out this amendment in order to put an end to this absurd and to establish civilized, European standards," Minister said.

Head of the president's administration, Andro Barnovi, held a special briefing on May 10th and spoke about the president’s decision to veto the bills. Barnovi explained that the bill on legal entities may cause negative results, especially for state universities, as they may lose their autonomy under the new amendments. He announced that Saakashvili provided his own recommendations and returned the bill to Parliament. “The president presented very interesting recommendations and we hope that considering the high importance of the matter, the Georgian parliament will consider the recommendations,” Barnovi said.