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The News in Brief

Monday, January 20
Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany

Orthodox Christians celebrated the Epiphany feast on January 19. Solemn services were delivered in the temples on this day. Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II delivered solemn liturgy with the priesthood at St. Trinity Cathedral.

After the service, water was sanctified and distributed among the crowd.

On that day, the sanctified water acquires benevolence of the River Jordan and is kept throughout the year, and is not polluted unlike ordinary water.

The Orthodox Church recommends drinking the sanctified water during ordeals and to help with ailments.

U.S. Congress delegation arrives in Tbilisi

Three delegations of U.S. senators and congressmen, as well as senior staff and advisers of various committees of the Senate arrived in Tbilisi on Sunday to hold a series of meetings.

Senators and congressmen have scheduled meetings with the president, government, parliament members and opposition. The delegation of congressmen and senators, led by senator James Inhofe, includes senator John Buzman and congressmen Vern Byukenen, Ender Crenshaw, Ann Kirkpatrick and Steve Pearce, as well as advisers of the relevant committees of the Senate.

During the visit, the two sides will discuss a wide range of current issues.

Swiss FM: 'Flexibility, Creativity' Needed to Restore OSCE Presence in Georgia

Switzerland, which assumed the OSCE’s rotating chairmanship, said it is ready to work on the restoration of the OSCE mission in Georgia.

The Swiss OSCE chairmanship is “ready to re-launch a discussion on the OSCE presence in Georgia, provided that the stakeholders show flexibility and creativity regarding the institutional setup of the OSCE presence,” Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said on January 16 while outlining priorities of his country’s OSCE chairmanship during an address to the organization’s Permanent Council in Vienna.

OSCE mission had to end its operation in Georgia in June, 2009 after a failure to agree on its mandate following Russia’s recognition of Georgia’s breakaway regions. At the time Russia rejected a proposal by the OSCE chairmanship, Greece, which was based on the so called “status-neutral” formula making no mention of Georgia or its breakaway regions in order to avoid dispute over the status.

The Swiss Foreign Minister, whose country is acting as a mediator between Georgia and Russia after they cut off diplomatic ties following the August, 2008 war, said the Geneva talks “mark a unique platform which should be strengthened to lay the ground for a conflict settlement.”

“We will encourage the participants of the Geneva Discussions to seek status-neutral solutions for a range of conflict-related problems. The Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism will remain a crucial element to stabilize the security situation on the ground,” Burkhalter said.

Georgians may travel to the EU visa-free from 2015

Georgian citizens may have visa-free access to the European Union next year.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Tamar Beruchashvili said she could not benchmark a specific date, but she hoped the visa liberalization process will be completed by 2015.

She claimed the Visa Liberalization Action Plan, handed to Georgia by the EU, consisted of two phases - legislative and implementation.

After each phase, the EU sent representatives to assess the situation and generate recommendations for the next steps.

"We received only one group of monitors so far and they gave positive feedback. Most of the legislative part has processed properly,” the Deputy Minister said, adding that the next EU group was expected to arrive this spring.

Beruchashvili assumed the implementation part of the process would begin in summer 2014.

"First Georgia has to do its homework properly, get a positive feedback and only after this the EU will make a political decision to let Georgian citizens enter its member countries with no visa requirement,” Beruchashvili stated.

The EU and Georgia began negotiations on establishing a visa-free regime for Georgian citizens when the previous government was in power. However the country only received the Action Plan from the EU at the end of last year.

EU citizens are allowed to enter Georgia without a visa.

High Council of Justice member selected

A Georgian lawyer has been selected to fill a vacant position on the High Council of Justice.

Georgia’s President Giorgi Magvelashvili appointed Vakhtang Mchedlishvili as a new Council member. Mchedlishvili was nominated by the organization Georgian Lawyers for Independent Profession.

A lawyer by profession, Mchedlishvili has worked in the High Council of Georgia and the Supreme Court, was a member of the Bar Association and also participated in the lawmaking process.

In 2013, he was appointed the country’s Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. Currently he is an Assistant Professor at Tbilisi State University.

Mchedlishvili gained research internships at the Free University of Berlin (FU) and Emory University in Atlanta, USA.

A competition for the member position on the High Council of Justice was announced by the Georgian President on December 30, 2013. Fourteen candidates participated in the contest.

Veterans Department to establish as independent entity

The Department of Veterans Affairs will become an independent entity in Georgia.

This issue was discussed and agreed upon at a Governmental meeting on January 17.

The new initiative will mean Georgia’s war veterans will be given more support and protection.

Georgia’s Minister of Defence, Irakli Alasania, said the Government appreciated every veteran's life and this decision emphasized that fact.

"The establishment of the Veterans Department means that their rights will be protected by the government," Alasania said.

"And this fact will utterly change the veterans’ social protection policy in Georgia. We have many war veterans. Last year government honoured monthly compensation for the fallen soldiers’ families."

A month ago, the government announced 500 GEL compensation will be granted monthly to the families of the Defence Ministry's fallen servants of Georgia from 2014, according to amendments in the State Compensation and Academy Scholarship law.

The compensation will be donated to the families of ISAF mission military participants who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money will also go to the families of the soldiers who died while fighting for territorial integrity of Georgia.