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The News in Brief

Monday, May 5
Georgia moves up on press freedom list, but remains 'partly free'

Georgia's ranking in the annual survey of global press freedom by Freedom House has improved slightly, but the country remains in the category of “partly free.”

Freedom of the Press 2014, which covers developments of 2013 and assesses press freedom in 197 countries and territories, ranks Georgia 93th, sharing position with Lesotho. In a previous similar survey Georgia was ranked 96th.

Each of the countries and territories examined in the survey are assigned a rating between 0 and 100 with countries scoring from 0 to 30 are given status of having “free” media; from 31 to 60 – “partly free” and 61 to 100 – “not free”.

Georgia’s score improved from 49 in the previous survey to 47 in the recent one.

Freedom House attributed “a smaller improvement” in Georgia’s standing to legislative amendments that “made permanent ‘must carry/must offer’ regulations requiring cable operators to carry all television stations, and the relative lack of incidents of intimidation or violence against journalists, which was notable for an election year.”

Offender who attacked brother of ex-MIA official surrenders

The man who attacked the brother of a former Ministry of Internal Affairs official has handed himself in.

Noshrevan Namoradze, local businessmen and former founder of Tiflis Development Company, said he was the person who attacked David Kodua – the brother of former Ministry of Internal Affair’s high official Erekle Kodua who is currently wanted by Interpol.

D. Kodua was taken to the hospital at 3pm and underwent an operation. Health officials said he was in the intensive care unit and was in a stable condition.

Kodua’s relatives said he was physically assaulted and he fractured several bones in his face, including his nose.

Meanwhile the man who allegedly beat up D. Kodua voluntarily surrendered to police.

Namoradze’s wife Nino Sutidze, said in 2008 E. Kodua ordered policemen to unlawfully enter their house and plant 15 grams of Heroin.

"Davit Kodua wanted to obtain my husband's share in Tiflis Development and since he was not giving it willingly, the Kodua brothers planned to arrest my husband,” Sutidze said.

"Because of this they placed drugs and arrested him, forced him to pay 500 GEL and give up his 50 percent share of the company, which was registered to me.

"They also took my car, a Range Rover Sport. After doing all this my husband was released.”

Sutidze said she filed a complaint when the government changed and an investigation was launched.

"My husband met Davit Kodua on the street and now he has been beaten up. What is surprising in this?" Sutidze said.

She said her husband went to the police station to give his testimony.

"We still hope that justice will win [and] the investigation goes successfully," she said.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Internal Affairs released a special statement confirming Namoradze had voluntarily surrendered to the police. The statement said he was motivated by revenge to attack Davit Kodua.

Members of the ruling political party Georgian Dream are expecting political speculations surrounding Kodua's case.

Parliament passes public TV board-related bill

Parliament passed with its third and final reading on May 2 legislative amendment paving way for new members of board of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) to assume office while also keeping members of the old board in place as a separate body with reduced authority.

The move comes after the Constitutional Court ruled last month that Parliament’s previous decision on pre-term termination of authority of members of the old board was unconstitutional.

Lawmakers from the UNM parliamentary minority group disagree and voted against of the amendment. They wanted the members of previous board, who took seats several years ago upon nomination of then President Saakashvili and confirmation by then UNM-controlled Parliament, to be kept and be replaced gradually by newly elected members upon expiration of term of their membership.

The previous board will be renamed into “monitoring board” with an advisory functions and no decision-making authority, according to the newly passed legislation. The old board was already dysfunctional as it lacked required quorum to take decisions after two of its members quit in October, 2013.

The new nine-seat board still has two vacant seats. On May 2 the GD parliamentary majority group voted down again – for the fourth time already – a candidate picked by UNM parliamentary minority, Ninia Kakabadze. Another candidate picked by lawmakers outside the majority factions failed to proceed to voting stage due to procedural reasons.

Candidates for the new board were selected by an independent commission of civil society and media representatives and then picked based on quota system by GD parliamentary majority group; Public Defender; Adjara Autonomous Republic’s legislative body and lawmakers outside the majority factions.

New strain of Smallpox-like virus found in Georgia

A new strain of virus has been identified in Georgia.

Three people have visited their doctor complaining of ulcers on their hands and a high temperature. All three confirmed they had been in contact with domestic animals.

At first the Georgian specialists believed the virus could be Anthrax but this was found not to be the case. They consulted with their American colleagues and now both sides are jointly investigating the symptoms and trying to identify what the virus is and what complications it may cause.

Specialists from the Atlanta Center for Disease Control and Prevention travelled to Georgia to study the virus. The experts said there was no analog to this type of virus, but its structure looked like it could be from the family of smallpox.

"Smallpox was eradicated a few years ago as a result of vaccination. None of the cases revealed in Georgia ended with a lethal result but we cannot speak about the whole specter of disease or what consequences it could cause," Juliette Morgan from Atlanta's Center for Disease Control and Prevention told the Georgian Public Broadcaster.

Specialists said all three men suffering from the virus are "absolutely healthy at this time", however they are continuing to study the virus to learn how it could develop.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Georgia stated the virus was first revealed last summer. They said there was a new genotype of orthopoxvirus, which had not been fully described yet.

"Accordingly it will form as a separate branch of the phylogenetic tree of Orthopoxviruses," NCDC of Georgia stated.

American specialists have not excluded the fact the virus could be used for creating a biological weapon through manipulation since it was new and people do not have immunity against it yet.