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Georgia

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Georgian ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili has been detained in Ukraine’s capital Kiev, days after his supporters freed him from a police van.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s detention, first reported on his Facebook page, was confirmed by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General.

He is suspected of receiving financing from a criminal group linked to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

On December 5, Mikheil Saakashvili was dragged from his home in Kiev and arrested.

The former president was later freed from police custody by a crowd of his supporters. After he was freed, he urged the crowd to impeach Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, a former ally.

Image source Wikimedia

Georgia presidential election ends Mikheil Saakashvili’s rule

Batumi: the Las Vegas of the Black Sea

Mikheil Saakashvili has been leading anti-corruption rallies against Petro Poroshenko.

The Ukrainian authorities responded by giving him a deadline of 24 hours to hand himself in.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s detention was part of an operation “to disrupt a plan of revenge of pro-Kremlin forces in Ukraine”, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said on December 5.

Prosecutors, who say Mikheil Saakashvili is being funded by businessmen close to Russia, released audio and video recordings which they say proved he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the criminal group.

Mikheil Saakashvili said the recordings were fake.

If found guilty, the former president could face up to five years in jail.

Mikheil Saakashvili also faces the threat of extradition to Georgia, where he is wanted on corruption charges. He claims the accusations are politically motivated.

He previously served as governor of the southern Odessa region after being appointed by Petro Poroshenko in 2015.

Before moving to Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili served for almost 10 years as president of Georgia.


Georgia’s ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze has died aged 86.

Eduard Shevardnadze’s aide Marina Davitashvili said he had passed away on Monday after a long illness.

In 1992 he became the head of state of the newly independent republic of Georgia.

Eduard Shevardnadze led Georgia out of instability and civil war but in November 2003 was toppled in the “Rose Revolution” sparked by opposition allegations of irregularities in parliamentary polls.

Eduard Shevardnadze passed away at 86 after a long illness

Eduard Shevardnadze passed away at 86 after a long illness (photo Reuters)

Born in 1928 in the city of Lanchkhuti, Eduard Shevardnadze joined the Communist Party’s youth movement in 1946 and became the party’s head in Georgia in 1972.

In 1985, Eduard Shevardnadze was appointed foreign minister of the Soviet Union under reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev and was credited with helping end the Cold War.

Mikhail Gorbachev told the Russian Ekho Moskvy radio station that Eduard Shevardnadze was a “very capable, talented man, very much predisposed to working with people, with all strata of society”.

Eduard Shevardnadze resigned from the post in 1990 before briefly taking it up again in 1991 as the country was disintegrating.

After returning to Georgia he managed to quell a civil war but was seen as having failed to tackle corruption in his time as president.

Eduard Shevardnadze spent his final years in a quiet retirement in the capital, Tbilisi.

Ex-USSR states Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed partnership agreements with the EU, in a move strongly opposed by Russia.

The pact – which would bind the three countries more closely to the West both economically and politically – is at the heart of the crisis in Ukraine.

Russia said that while the signing of the deal was the right of any state there could be grave consequences.

A ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine is due to end on Friday.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the signing as Ukraine’s most historic day since independence in 1991, describing it as a “symbol of faith and unbreakable will”.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the signing of the partnership agreement with the EU

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the signing of the partnership agreement with the EU (photo Reuters)

Petro Poroshenko also said he saw the signing as the start of preparations for joining the bloc.

“Ukraine is underlining its sovereign choice in favor of membership of the EU,” he said.

Meanwhile European Council President Herman van Rompuy described it as a “great day for Europe”.

“The EU stands by your side, today more than ever before,” he told leaders of the three countries, adding that there was nothing in the agreements that might harm Russia in any way.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Interfax news agency that the move was fraught with difficulties.

“The signing of this serious document is, certainly, a sovereign right of each state,” he said.

“[But] the consequences of the signing by Ukraine and Moldova no doubt, will be serious.”

Earlier senior Kremlin adviser Sergei Glazyev described Petro Poroshenko as a “Nazi” and said his presidency was illegitimate because parts of Ukraine did not vote in the May elections.

Sergei Glazyev also said that Petro Poroshenko had no constitutional right to sign the treaty, which would damage the Ukrainian economy.

However, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media that Sergei Glazyev’s comments did not reflect the official Kremlin position.

Petro Poroshenko’s predecessor Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the deal under pressure from Russia and protests led to his overthrow.

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President of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia Alexander Ankvab is said to have fled the capital Sukhumi after opposition protesters seized his office.

Alexander Ankvab reportedly retreated to his home town Gudauta, 25 miles away, when talks with the opposition broke down.

Many people in the Russian-backed region are unhappy with the ailing economy and lack of reforms.

But Abkhazian nationalist feeling is also fuelling the unrest.

President of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia Alexander Ankvab is said to have fled the capital Sukhumi after opposition protesters seized his office

President of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia Alexander Ankvab is said to have fled the capital Sukhumi after opposition protesters seized his office

The protesters are led by Raul Khadzhimba, a former prime minister and vice-president of Abkhazia, who was defeated by Alexander Ankvab in elections in August 2011.

Abkhazia is recognized as a state only by Russia and a few other countries. It broke away from Georgia after a civil war more than 20 years ago and declared formal independence in 2008. Since then, it has relied militarily and financially on Russia.

Russia is reportedly sending two senior officials, presidential aide Vladislav Surkov and deputy security council secretary Rashid Nurgaliyev, to Sukhumi in response to the crisis.

Opinion among the opposition is said to be divided between those who want Abkhazia to rely less on Russia and those who instead want it to become part of Russia.

Alexander Ankvab accused the opposition of attempting a coup on Tuesday and said the security forces remained “loyal to the state” and were “taking measures to stabilize the situation”.

Raul Khadzhimba defended the protests, saying: “Over all the years of his rule the president did not allow anybody in his circle to do their work.

“He took upon himself everybody’s responsibilities on their behalf, whether he should or should not have been doing this. That led to our country in fact becoming an authoritarian regime.”

In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said: “The Russian side is following events closely and with concern… and considers it important that socio-political processes develop exclusively along legal lines.”

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Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry has designated northern Georgia a “NO VALENTINE’S DAY ZONE” in a post on the department’s Facebook page Wednesday night.

Men are “exempt from having to run out and buy lottery scratchers and Hershey bars from the corner stores until February 18, 2014, due to ice, snow, freezing rain,” the tongue-in-cheek post said.

Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry has designated northern Georgia a NO VALENTINE'S DAY ZONE

Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry has designated northern Georgia a NO VALENTINE’S DAY ZONE

It’s all in fun. But rescheduling the festival of lovers to Tuesday would give the ice-storm battered region time to get roads back to normal and make Valentine’s Day a safer affair.

Though it sounds like a pretty practical safety suggestion to motorists, it was more likely something else that drove Sheriff Scott Berry to the decision.

“I think he was just trying to cut the monotony,” dispatcher John Ogle told CNN.

Deputies have been practically snowed in at the office for a marathon 34-hour shift, and the sheriff wanted to give them something to smile at, John Ogle said.

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Honey Boo Boo and her family visited Savannah and Tybee Island in the latest episode of reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

The episode, filmed in June and titled Hubba Bubba follows the Georgia family on an RV roadtrip to Tybee Island where 8-year-old Alana Thompson, sister Lauryn “Pumpkin” and niece Katilyn see the beach for the first time.

June Shannon takes her first dip in the ocean, and the girls take their first surf lesson before ending the day with some Southern cooking at Sisters of the New South on Skidaway Road.

Kenneth Brown, operations manager at Sisters of the New South, said they knew of the family’s visit about a month in advance but had to keep quiet so it would be a surprise for the customers.

“It was a normal day for us, and all of the customers were really surprised to see them,” Kenneth Brown said.

Honey Boo Boo and her family see the beach for the first time on Tybee Island

Honey Boo Boo and her family see the beach for the first time on Tybee Island

“They were all very friendly. I think TV portrays them a certain way … as <<backwoodsy>>, but they were very down to earth, just like anyone else you would meet.”

Dorothy Bing, front line supervisor at the restaurant, waited on the family and agreed with Brown, saying what you see on television is what you get with the family.

“They’re just regular, ordinary people. They acted the same way they do on TV, acting a fool and all,” said Dorothy Bing.

She said the family enjoyed red and white velvet cake and that Mama June tried ox tails for the first time.

“I was surprised at how quiet the little girl was. She did talk, but she was a lot quieter than I thought she would be,” Dorothy Bing said.

After the family’s day of fun in the sun June Shannon gave Honey Boo Boo’s one million Facebook followers a peek into their day: “Omg had a blast on tybee today a first time ever at a beach for pumpkin katilyn and alana and my first time going in the ocean we have a awesome time just as a family and meet some fans down there now going to dinner and then maybe walking river st.”

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, featuring the family’s trip to Tybee Island and Savannah, airs at 9 p.m. today on the TLC network.

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A fight between majority and opposition erupted in the Georgian parliament over plans to support the Ukrainian opposition for European integration.

Video footage taken inside the Georgian parliament shows deputies throwing documents in the air and brawling with one another following the opposition’s suggestions.

A fight between majority and opposition erupted in the Georgian parliament over plans to support the Ukrainian opposition for European integration

A fight between majority and opposition erupted in the Georgian parliament over plans to support the Ukrainian opposition for European integration

Opposition deputy Giorgi Baramidze wanted to encourage supporters of Ukraine’s European integration with a special resolution.

Giorgi Baramidze also condemned violence inflicted on participants of peaceful rallies in Kiev.

No one was seriously injured in the incident, but opposition representatives have demanded a public apology from the parliamentary majority before they will participate in any more plenary meetings.

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Giorgi Margvelashvili – an ally of Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili – has won the country’s presidential election, according to exit polls.

The polls give Giorgi Margvelashvili, 44, 66-68% of the vote. His closest rival, David Bakradze from the party of the incumbent, trailed with 20.2%.

David Bakradze has conceded defeat and congratulated Giorgi Margvelashvili.

The election marks an end to a decade in power for pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was barred from seeking a third term.

But constitutional changes are planned to reduce presidential powers.

The exit polls were conducted by European market research organization GfK on behalf of Georgian private television station Rustavi2, and by ACT, a Georgian public opinion group.

Giorgi Margvelashvili is a member of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream party

Giorgi Margvelashvili is a member of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party

Giorgi Margvelashvili is a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party, which won parliamentary elections last year, ushering in the former Soviet republic’s first legal transfer of power.

The billionaire businessman also intends to resign as prime minister within weeks of the vote, saying he has achieved his aims.

Bidzina Ivanishvili has called the vote Georgia’s first “European-style election”.

Since coming to power in the bloodless 2003 “Rose Revolution” Mikheil Saakashvili has implemented reforms which helped root out corruption.

Mikheil Saakashvili pursued a pro-Western foreign policy and improved public services in the Caucasus republic, where poverty remains widespread.

Tensions with Moscow flared up into an armed conflict in August 2008.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is also Georgia’s richest man, has dismissed the outgoing president’s achievements, calling Mikheil Saakashvili a “liar” and a “dictator”.

He has indicated that Mikheil Saakashvili could face questioning or even prosecution over the alleged crimes of his government after his term ends.

Bidzina Ivanishvili has not yet named his party’s successor as prime minister.

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Georgians are going to the polls to vote for a new president, ending a decade in power for pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The frontrunner among the 23 candidates is Giorgi Margvelashvili – a close ally of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, Mikheil Saakashvili’s bitter rival.

Following the polls, constitutional amendments will significantly reduce presidential powers.

Mikheil Saakashvili is barred from standing as he has already served two terms.

Bidzina Ivanishvili’s win in parliamentary elections last year ushered in the former Soviet republic’s first legal transfer of power.

The billionaire businessman also intends to resign within weeks of the vote, saying he has achieved his aims.

He has called Sunday’s vote Georgia’s “first European-style election”.

Polling stations are open from 08:00 local time until 20:00. Final results must be published no later than November 16.

Opinion polls suggest a win for philosopher and former Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili, a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition

Opinion polls suggest a win for philosopher and former Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili, a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition

If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a run-off between the two top-placed candidates must be held two weeks after the results of the first round are published.

Opinion polls suggest a win for philosopher and former Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili, a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.

But a second round with David Bakratze, who represents Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) remains a possibility.

Nino Burjenadze, another top contender, is one the most well known female politicians in Georgia.

Georgia is moving closer to a parliamentary democracy although the president will formally remain the head of state and retain an important role in foreign policy, our correspondent adds.

Since coming to power in the bloodless 2003 “Rose Revolution” Mikheil Saakashvili has implemented reforms which helped root out corruption.

He pursued a pro-Western foreign policy and improved public services in the Caucasus republic, where poverty remains widespread.

But the country’s prime minister, who is also Georgia’s richest man, has dismissed these achievements, calling Mikheil Saakashvili a “liar” and a “dictator”.

Bidzina Ivanishvili has indicated that the outgoing president could face questioning or even prosecution over the alleged crimes of his government after his term ends. He has not yet named a successor as prime minister.

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Voters in Georgia are going to the polls in an election regarded as President Mikheil Saakashvili’s biggest test since he came to power in 2003.

Opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, accuses the president of acting undemocratically and trampling on people’s rights.

Mikheil Saakashvili says his opponent would allow Russia to dominate the former Soviet republic.

The president led the country in a short war with Russia in 2008.

He has sought to portray the election as a choice between his progressive Western-leaning government, and a future dominated by Russia.

“Tomorrow, our enemy has its last chance to turn us off our path of independence,” Mikheil Saakashvili said in a recorded address carried on state TV on Sunday.

“But I am confident that tomorrow our freedom-loving nation will take the ultimate and decisive step towards liberation from the pincers of the conqueror and towards integration into the house of Europe.”

The government’s reputation has taken a battering in recent weeks because of a prisoner-abuse scandal.

Videos broadcast on national television showed prison inmates being beaten and sexually abused by guards.

The scandal sparked street protests and has allowed Bidzina Ivanishvili to portray the government as high-handed and uncaring.

“This regime cannot be the leadership of our country. This system should collapse,” he told supporters of his Georgian Dream coalition at a rally on Saturday.

Analysts say the election is crucial because Georgia’s political system is being altered to give more power to parliament.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s second term as president ends next year, and he is constitutionally barred from standing again.

A parliamentary majority for his United National Movement could see him continue his domination of Georgian politics after he steps down.

Fist-fights are already a common feature of campaign meetings, and there are fears a dispute over the results could lead to violence.

 

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Georgia’s beautiful, subtropical Black Sea coast is once again drawing tourists from far and wide, and the government hopes focusing on gambling will help pull in visitors all year round.

When you are in Batumi, it is hard to believe that this was once a corrupt and crime-ridden city, cut off from the rest of the country, and run as a personal fiefdom by a power-hungry strongman.

Today the palm trees are illuminated in neon. Fountains are bathed in red and green spotlights, and hotels flash like Christmas tree lights.

Subtlety is not something you see much of in these parts. But then this once dark and impoverished corner of the former Soviet Union is now being touted as the Las Vegas of the Black Sea.

Just as Las Vegas likes to build larger-than-life imitations of Paris or Rome, in a confusingly circular way, Batumi is attempting its own rather bizarre copy of Las Vegas.

More aspirational members of the Georgian government would prefer to draw comparisons with Monte Carlo – but all the flashing lights and slot machines make me think more of 1980s Blackpool, near where I grew up in rainy north-west England. Minus, of course, the sticks of rock and the donkeys.

Turkish flags wave proudly outside the new casinos, whose owners say up to 70% of all the tourists in Batumi come to gamble – and that at the weekends, more than half of the guests at the roulette wheels or blackjack tables are Turkish.

Over the centuries this region was repeatedly invaded by Turks. Now Georgia is doing everything it can to lure them back. Passport controls crossing from Turkey into Georgia have been eased, meaning Turkish tourists can cross for an evening’s flutter showing just an ID card.

Last year almost 750,000 Turkish tourists visited Batumi – more than any other nationality – and even more are expected this year. So every season bigger hotels are built. Glitzier casinos opened. And yes, even more colorful lights switched on.

Local shopkeepers say they are thrilled that the regional economy appears to be booming.

But on the other side of the border, in Turkey, people are a bit more ambivalent. One Turkish laborer says he is now addicted, and that he comes every other day after work to gamble – otherwise he feels sick.

He has neighbors in the village who have lost their businesses because of gambling debts.

In local mosques in Turkey, religious leaders say gambling is turning into a plague, which is destroying families – something many wives would probably agree with.

According to the Turkish embassy in Georgia, Turkish women regularly phone up the consul in Batumi asking for help to find their husbands in the casinos.

But considering what the situation was like here just a decade ago, the boom in tourism is impressive.

This region was run by a corrupt clan, headed by Aslan Abashidze – seen by some as a strongman who saved the region from the chaos of 1990s Georgia, but by others as a mafia boss, who was involved in organized crime, backed up by his own personal army.

Getting into the territory then meant passing numerous checkpoints, passport controls and inevitably paying bribes.

Aslan Abashidze’s son was rumored to close off the promenade regularly – the only stretch of road without potholes – to race his Lamborghini up and down.

When President Mikheil Saakashvili swept to power in Georgia proper after the 2003 Rose Revolution, he vowed to win back this stray territory. There were fears of civil war – but that was averted when Aslan Abashidze fled to Moscow.

And although he still faces 15 years in prison for embezzlement if he ever comes back to Georgia, and has even been charged with murder, the region around Batumi has become a model for how once-breakaway territories can be reintegrated and made to prosper.

So President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government today likes to hold up Batumi as a lure for people in Georgia’s two remaining breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – which despite being backed by Russia, still show the scars of war, and have little of the glitz of Batumi.

It’s rather like how, before 1989, the US would show off the shining shop windows of capitalist West Berlin, to dark communist East Germany on the other side of the Wall.

So probably best if Georgia sticks to the Las Vegas or Monte Carlo analogies. I doubt talking about the joys of a Georgian Blackpool would quite do the same job.

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Jorely Rivera, a 7-year-old girl, whose body was found in a Georgia dumpster, was bludgeoned, sexually assaulted and stabbed in a particularly vicious attack by a killer who police believe lives in her apartment complex.

The wounds to Jorely Rivera body were so severe Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan would not give any details.

Vernon Keenan would only say she had blunt force trauma to the head and stab wounds and that the crime as a “very horrific and brutal murder”.

Jorely Rivera was taken to a vacant apartment where she was sexually assaulted, stabbed and beaten to death, police believe.

The killer then threw little girl’s brutally disfigured body into a trash bin near her home in Canton, Georgia where it was found by police.

“It came about 60 to 90 minutes after she disappeared,” Vernon Keenan said.

“This was a very calculated and planned crime.

“A child who dies under extreme violence is absolutely the worst thing that can happen to a human being.”

Jorely Rivera was taken to a vacant apartment where she was sexually assaulted, stabbed and beaten to death, police believe

Jorely Rivera was taken to a vacant apartment where she was sexually assaulted, stabbed and beaten to death, police believe

Investigators believe the killer either lives in the apartment complex or has regular access to it.

No suspects are in custody but investigations continue. DNA evidence has been collected from the child’s body and the vacant apartment.

Jorely Rivera was last seen on Friday afternoon, and her body was discovered around 12:30 p.m. on Monday.

Police and volunteers had spent the weekend combing the area around the apartment complex playground where the girl was last seen.

At the time of her disappearance, Jorely Rivera was being looked after by a teenage babysitter along with her two siblings.

She had left the park to go and collect drinks from home for her friends, and disappeared between the playground and her home at the River Ridge Apartments.

Police had sent several Coca-Cola cans found nearby for forensic testing to see if these are the drinks that the child had gone to collect for her friends.

Jorely Rivera’s mother, Joselin, had made an emotional plea for her return and her father, who lives in Florida, had flown to the city in Cherokee County.

A friend translated for Spanish-speaking Joselin Rivera to local TV station 11alive.com.

Joselin Rivera said her daughter was “friendly, sweet, had lots of friends and everyone just loved her”.

Vernon Keenan said investigators have received numerous tips from the public and said valuable evidence has come from residents at the apartment complex.

Several sex offenders living at the complex have been identified and interviewed, he said.

But Vernon Keenan added: “We have no reason to believe, at this point, that sex offenders are involved.”

About 65 local, state and federal investigators are working on the case and several hundred interviews have been conducted, authorities said.

Maria Rodriguez, a former resident of the apartment complex, said she works with Jorely Rivera’s mother at a nearby poultry plant.

“She was a very sweet girl,” Maria Rodriguez said as she held her own four-year-old daughter.

“She was the type of little girl who likes her presence to be known. It’s just so sad.”

Police have removed two other young children from the Rivera home over “concern about the supervision of Jorely,” said Lt. Jay Baker with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department.

He said no charges were expected against the mother or the baby sitter.

A prayer vigil was held late Monday at the playground, where people left flowers, balloons and stuffed animals at a makeshift memorial for Jorely Rivera.

A $15,000 reward has been issued for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the girl’s killer.

“We’re following up on every single tip,” Jay Baker said.

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