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The News in Brief

Monday, September 26
EU unlikely to ease travel rules for Georgia before October vote – Reuters

The European Union is unlikely to agree visa-free travel for Georgia before its Oct. 8 elections as its government had hoped, diplomats said on Friday, citing divisions in the bloc and fears over immigration, Reuters reports.

Germany blocked visa liberalization for the nation of 3.7 million people in June, demanding that the EU first firm up its system for suspending visa waivers. The move was backed by France and Italy.

Voters in EU states have grown extremely wary of immigration after some 1.3 million migrants reached the bloc in 2015.

While EU states agree Georgia has met all criteria for visa liberalization, negotiations between EU states and the European Parliament on the suspension mechanism have ground to a halt.

The lawmakers demand a bigger say in triggering any such brake than national capitals are willing to give them.

"Some member states say they want visa liberalization for Georgia but in fact act differently," said one EU diplomat.

Another said it was looking "increasingly impossible" to agree more relaxed travel rules for Georgia ahead of the parliamentary vote there on Oct. 8 - lending fodder to opposition claims that the ruling Georgian Dream party has failed in its foreign policy goals.

The former Soviet nation on Russia's border is caught in a geo-political tussle between the EU and Russia. Georgia's Western aspirations are opposed by Moscow, which sees the nation as part of its sphere of influence.

Easier travel rules for Georgians overlap with similar talks the EU is holding with Ukraine and Turkey. Those two countries are more problematic for the EU, making member states wary of moving ahead on Tbilisi.

Wizz Air Opens Base in Kutaisi, Launches 7 New Routes

Low-cost airline operator Wizz Air announced on September 23 about opening a base at the Kutaisi airport and adding seven new routes, now offering total of 11 low-fare routes to eight countries from Kutaisi.

The airline has based one of its new Airbus A320 aircraft at the David the Builder International Airport in Kutaisi.

New destinations from Kutaisi include Berlin, Dortmund and Memmingen (about 100km from Munich) in Germany; Larnaca in Cyprus; Milan in Italy; Sofia in Bulgaria, and Thessaloniki in Greece.

Wizz Air said that the base's establishment represents an investment of USD 98 million (cost of A320 aircraft) by the airline operator in Kutaisi, creating 36 direct jobs with the airline.

Wizz Air, which launched flights to and from Kutaisi in 2012, was operating four routes (Budapest, Katowice, Vilnius and Warsaw) before adding new destinations.

“We put Kutaisi on the map of aviation in 2012 and since then we have carried over 600,000 passengers on our low fare routes, stimulating the local tourism and aviation industries and strengthening business relations between Georgia and the rest of Europe,” Owain Jones, Chief Corporate Officer of Wizz Air, said.

Muslims in Kobuleti win symbolic victory in discrimination lawsuit

On Monday, Batumi City Court ruled partly in favor of the local Muslim community in a conflict about a planned religious boarding school called a madrasa.

The court case, which has lasted two years, deals with a conflict among locals in the town Kobuleti, in western Georgia, which began in 2014.

When it became know that a madrasa was being planned, locals protested against it. Some of them slaughtered a pig and hung its head on the door of the building.

The court decided that this was discrimination and symbolically fined three people one lari each who will be prohibited from interfering in the Muslim community while they are on their own property.

But the court did not agree with a claim that the police improperly carried out their duties.

Locals in Kobuleti do not agree with the court’s decision. They claim that their rights were violated, not the Muslims’ rights.

Zhuzhuna Kaladze, one of the three who got a one lari fine by the court, claims it is a district where everybody is a practicing Orthodox Christian.

“Their plans to build a madrasa there violate our rights,” she told journalists, adding that ‘something serious’ might happen if the madrasa is built.

The Muslim community, on the other hand, does not agree with part of the court’s decision relating to the conduct of the police and plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Lawyers representing the community claim it is the first lawsuit in Georgia wherein Muslims have claimed to have been discriminated against.

The madrasa in Kobuleti will soon start preparations to open, its director Ramaz Kakaladze said.

“It is very important for us that the court created a precedent to admit the discrimination of the Muslim community in Georgia,” he said.
(DF watch)