07TBILISI1039, Georgia Bi-Weekly Update May 4

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI1039 2007-05-04 14:11 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #1039/01 1241411
R 041411Z MAY 07

E.O 12958: N/A 
SUBJECT: Georgia Bi-Weekly Update May 4 
1. This cable contains current items of political, economic, and 
social interest concerning Georgia during the weeks of April 21-May 
Opposition Supports South Ossetia Initiative 
2. Georgian opposition parties have embraced President Saakashvili's 
proposal to create a temporary administrative unit in South Ossetia 
(reftel).  Representatives of the New Rights Party led by David 
Gamkrelidze, usually quick to criticize Saakashvili's initiatives, 
visited the Georgian-controlled part of South Ossetia immediately 
after Saakashvili's April 23 announcement of his plan.  They met 
with Dmitry Sanakoyev and other members of the "alternative 
government," as well as with the local population.  The de facto 
government of Eduard Kokoity turned down a New Rights request for a 
meeting.  Shortly afterwards, Industrialist Party leader (and 
president of the beer producer Kazbegi) Gogi Topadze visited 
Sanakoyev to discuss joint business projects in agriculture.  This 
year the Kazbegi company plans to invest over USD 300,000 in the 
conflict zone. 
Public Defender vs. the Ministry of Refugees 
3. On April 30, Public Defender (or Ombudsman) Sozar Subari for the 
first time used his constitutional right to address the President 
with a formal letter, requesting him to protect the rights of 
internally displaced persons (IDPs).  Subari argues that IDPs are 
being evicted from their temporary shelters without sufficient 
support from the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation.  In many 
cases, the IDPs have occupied the "temporary" shelters for more than 
ten years.  The Ministry, in turn, has disputed the charges, and 
Minister Kheviashvili has called for Subari to resign. 
Opposition's Controversial Comments on Abkhazia 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
4. On April 23, prominent Republican Party member Paata 
Zakareishvili made televised comments alleging that a Zugdidi unit 
of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was behind a group of Georgian 
students who became active in Abkhazia during the elections of the 
de facto parliament in early March, "terrorizing the local 
population" as Zakareishvili described it.  Following the interview, 
a group of students burst into Republican Party offices to express 
their indignation.  Although Speaker Burjanadze later reprimanded 
the students for their aggressive action against the Republican 
Party, prominent National Movement leader Giga Bokeria publicly 
slammed the Republicans and Zakareishvili for adopting an 
"anti-state approach."  Bokeria said that the party will have to pay 
a high political cost for such irresponsible statements. 
Political Parties Compete for Left-wing Niche 
5. Opposition parties appear to be competing with each other to 
organize demonstrations presenting themselves as the champions of 
rising social issues.  Most vocal is Shalva Natelashvili's Labor 
Party, which called for a nationwide strike April 17 to protest the 
government's tax and labor policies.  Now Natelashvili is calling 
for a large protest in front of Parliament on May 10.  Other leftist 
parties seem reluctant to accept Natelashvili's invitation to join 
this demonstration, and four of them have instead invited him to 
join an alternative event on May 8, the day Parliament is scheduled 
to consider bills on rehabilitation fees and an increase of 
transportation fares.  Adding to the mix, Zviad Dzidziguri's 
Conservative Party is planning a May 10 event to demand increased 
pensions for retirees. 
"Lettergate" Engulfs Natelashvili 
6. The often cantankerous Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili 
claimed in April that he had been in consultations with the Iranian 
Ambassador to Georgia to secure the release of the British Royal 
Marines then held captive in Iran.  Following the Marines' release, 
Natelashvili took credit publicly.  Soon thereafter, he trumpeted 
his receipt of a glowing letter of appreciation from British 
Ambassador to Georgia for its role in the resolution of UK's 
international crisis.  As media sources who obtained the letter soon 
noted, it contained some curious mistakes in its letterhead, 
referring to "Grat Britain" and "Northen Irland," and was signed by 
"Her Majesty Ambassador Donald MacLaren," rather than the usual "Her 
Majesty's Ambassador."  MacLaren himself denied the authenticity of 
the letter before banks of TV news cameras.  In response, 
Natelashvili publicly called MacLaren a powerless puppet of the 
Saakashvili government, and sent a letter to London demanding his 
Prime Minister's Surgery Triggers Rumors 
7. The unexpected news that Prime Minister Noghaideli underwent 
heart surgery (related to a congenital defect he has had since 
childhood) while on an April visit to the U.S. triggered rumors that 
he might resign, although government officials denied them. &#x000A
;Following the April 19 surgery, Noghaideli's health was declared 
TBILISI 00001039  002 OF 002 
satisfactory and he was discharged from the hospital after ten days. 
 His assistant assured reporters that he would resume his duties in 
early May, but a number of observers noted that the doctors' 
recommendation that he not overwork seemed hardly compatible with 
the demands associated with his job. 
Will Open Skies Close Skies for Georgian Companies? 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
8. An analytical program on Imedi TV reported that the Georgian 
government intends to negotiate an Open Skies Agreement with the 
United States.  The report focused in particular on the risks of 
liberalizing the Georgian air market, which the GOG has been doing 
on a unilateral basis apart from discussions with the USG on an Open 
Skies treaty.  Representatives of Georgian air companies and the 
Aviation School asserted that the U.S. agreement would spell the 
doom of local aviation.  French and German experts interviewed on 
the program recommended that Georgia adopt a protectionist policy 
favoring national air carriers.  European airlines dominate the 
market for travel from Georgia and would not welcome new competition 
any more than the Georgian national carriers. 
Georgian Trade Union Confederation Celebrates May 1 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
9. About a thousand members of the Georgian Trade Union 
Confederation (GTUC) held a march in Tbilisi on May 1, which is not 
a national holiday in Georgia as it is in most of Europe.  The 
marchers were of varied ages, and carried signs promoting adoption 
of European labor standards.  The GTUC issued a "May Day Manifesto" 
that protests against Georgia's new labor legislation and "all forms 
of oppression and discrimination in workplaces, attempts to 
establish unlimited working time and unpaid overtime work, and 
limiting women's rights to maternity leave."  The GTUC urgently 
seeks a "social dialogue" with the government, aimed at securing 
effective rights to strike and clear procedures for collective 


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