Thursday, September 4, 2008

Georgian Opposition: ‘Time for Tough Question has Come’

The following is taken from USAID-funded

‘Time for Tough Question has Come’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 4 Sep.'08 / 19:06

Open letter calls for public debate;
Usupashvili: Saakashvili fell into Russian trap;
Targamadze: special commission should study mistakes.

Some public and civil society figures, as well some politicians, have said that the time has come to ask tough questions of the authorities about what led to war and to the subsequent grave results for the country.

An open letter, published by the Georgian daily Rezonansi on September 4 and signed by over eighty individuals and organizations, has called for the launch of a public debate on recent developments.

The letter, signed by representatives of human rights groups, academic circles, journalists and some public figures, says that “for a broad public debate on the problem” it is necessary “to set the Georgian Public Broadcaster free of the authorities’ censorship.”

“Extensive propaganda is currently underway, blaming the catastrophic consequences [of the conflict] on everyone – an aggressive Russia, an ignorant West (which, it is claimed, ignored the Georgian leaders’ warnings); the opposition; Russian spies, etc. – everyone, but not the authorities themselves,” the letter reads.

Then it lists some questions, which the signatories say, should be answered by the authorities, including, why it happened that the Georgian side “despite the U.S. administration’s warnings, fell into the Russian trap.”

The letter blames the Georgian authorities for “the catastrophic consequences” and says that “the authorities, which have in fact prepared the ground for these consequences through its non-professionalism and anti-democracy, are now claiming that what has happened was impossible to prevent.”

The signatories of the open letter include, among others, the Georgian Academy, an opposition-leaning, non-governmental group uniting actors and some intelligentsia figures; the Human Rights Centre; the Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights; the Equality Institute; and the investigative reporting group Studio Reporter.

Also on September 4, MP Giorgi Targamadze, the chairman of the Christian-Democratic Party and the leader of the parliamentary minority, said “the time has come to launch a debate and [make] decisions – without hysteria – about what has happened.”

“To make appropriate conclusions and draw lessons, it will be essential to create a special parliamentary commission to scrupulously investigate mistakes made at political, strategic, tactical, and operational levels,” Targamadze said in a statement.

He also said that Russia had been gradually preparing the ground for an invasion of Georgia, but he also partially put the blame on the Georgian authorities, saying that their rhetoric and policies had been “designed to finally reintegrate the Tskhinvali region into Georgia by using force.” Targamadze added that it was now “hard to prove that Georgia didn’t start the war.”

Targamadze also said that Georgia’s western partners should “not allow the government of Georgia to use a so-called ‘iron hand’ policy against the opposition.”

Echoing some other opposition politicians, Targamadze said that President Saakashvili’s proposal for an anti-crisis group with the involvement of opposition parties would only be effective if it worked on broader “democratization” issues and not just on overseeing the distribution of humanitarian aid for the victims of the conflict.

Meanwhile, Davit Usupashvili, the leader of the opposition Republican Party, said in a newspaper interview, published on September 4, that he was sure President Saakashvili had “[fallen] into a Russian trap.”

“It seems to me that Saakashvili was misled by someone telling him that the Russians would not intervene in Tskhinvali on condition that we would stop our active measures in respect of Abkhazia,” he told the daily Rezonansi. “That is my impression, because otherwise it is unclear how it was possible to fall into this trap if there were no guarantees that the Russians would not intervene.”

Usupashvili also said that “the time has come to ask questions and to find out the truth.”

“But it should in no way be interpreted as a demand for the immediate resignation of the government,” he added. “It may be even worse to raise the issue of a change in leadership in the near future.”

Speaking in Parliament on September 3, Nika Rurua, a senior lawmaker from the ruling party, said that recent developments needed to be thoroughly investigated “professionally, without any political stage show.” “That should in no way be part of some political populism,” MP Rurua, who is the deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee for defense and security, said.

He was in particular speaking about the military aspects of recent events.

MP Rurua said the extent of the damage inflicted on Georgia’s defense capabilities and military infrastructure would be made public soon. Reforms, necessary due to shortfalls revealed by the conflict, would also be publicly outlined, he said.

Tsotne Gamsakhurdia accused of espionage and attempting to overthrow government

Цотне Гамсахурдия обвиняется в шпионаже и попытке госпереворота

Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, middle son of the first president of Georgia [Zviad Gamsakhurdia], has been charged on two counts: according to clause 314 of the Georgian Criminal Code ("Espionage") and clause 135 ("Plotting with the aim to overthrow a legitimate power"). The charges were announced by the accused's defense attorney Keti Bekauri, reports "Kavkaz-Press."

According to Bekauri, Gamsakhurdia is already talking, having refused his right to silence. "He denies the charges and will not plead guilty," said the attorney. Gamsakhurdia was arrested the evening of September 3 at the Tbilisi airport, returning via Baku from Moscow where he has been living these last years. Gamsakhurdia has been under investigation since November 2007. Back then, the General Prosecutor of Georgia accused him of attempting to organize a coup and of communicating with Russian special services. Gamsakhurdia is accused of spying for Russia.

Earlier, on August 22, after the active phase of the military operation in South Ossetia had already ended, the United Opposition warned that Georgian authorities might soon begin once again to search for internal enemies. The worries were brought out by a statement made by Saakashvili's wife Sandra Roelofs in which she said that "the opposition protests in November 2007 were financed by Russia."

One of the leaders of the United Opposition, secretary for the party "Movement for a United Georgia" Eka Beselia stated that the Georgian authorities would soon begin to search for internal enemies and any artificial link between the Georgian opposition and the Russian special services. "This is an attempt by the authorties to find an escape from the current situation, to overcome the crisis. It will be necessary for the authorities to find internal enemies, but I am absolutely sure that it won't be successful, just as it wasn't in November when they even made films about Russian agents in the Georgian opposition," she noted.