08TBILISI304, OPPOSITION POSTPONES HUNGER STRIKE, RESUMES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI304 2008-02-25 14:01 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO6391
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0304/01 0561401
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 251401Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8945
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000304 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/25/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM GG
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION POSTPONES HUNGER STRIKE, RESUMES 
NEGOTIATIONS 
 
REF: TBILISI 271 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. (SBU) Summary:  Early on February 22, the United National 
Council of Opposition (UNC) voted to postpone a hunger strike 
and street protest scheduled to begin that afternoon 
(reftel).  Following the vote, UNC leader MP Levan 
Gachechiladze wrote and delivered an address explaining the 
opposition's need to resume negotiations following "firm 
guarantees from Speaker Burjanadze" that the government would 
meet the UNC's three preliminary demands within a week: 
releasing those arrested during the November 7 protests and 
replacing both the heads of the Public Broadcaster and 
Central Election Commission.  Not all of the UNC members 
wanted to resume negotiations and some publicly criticized 
Gachechiladze for the decision.  Their main rallying cry has 
been the absence of any concrete examples thus far of the 
government meeting any opposition demands.  Republican Party 
Chairman David Usupashvili told us privately that 
Gachechiladze did a "strong job" of bringing the unwieldy UNC 
mechanism around to this more responsible course of action. 
Still, Usupashvili warned that this "really is the last 
chance" for the government to keep its agreements and exhibit 
some progress.  Otherwise, he said, the radical opposition 
members will likely move to the street in permanent protests, 
regardless of UNC approval.  End Summary. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
UNC Leaders Persuade Return to Negotiations 
------------------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) On February 22, Usupashvili briefed Poloff on the 
UNC's early morning decision to postpone the hunger strikes 
and street protests scheduled to begin that day until some 
time in March.  Usupashvili said that Gachechiladze "did a 
great job" to persuade the radical parties in the UNC to 
allow negotiations with Burjanadze more time to work. 
Usupashvili said that once Gachechiladze and Salome 
Zourabichvili (Georgia's Way) agreed with the Republicans to 
postpone the hunger strike, those who wanted to protest 
(primarily the Conservatives and Koba Davitashvili's People's 
Party) could no longer force the issue.  Usupashvili said 
this eventuality gave him hope that the opposition radicals 
would support the rest of the UNC in negotiating more 
seriously, with the option of protest now off the table. 
 
-------------------------------- 
"One More Last Chance for Talks" 
-------------------------------- 
 
3. (SBU) Usupashvili stressed that "this really is the last 
chance" for positive development from the negotiations.  He 
said, "If some concrete results are not obtained from the 
talks, Gachechiladze can't hold it together any longer." 
Usupashvili believed that there has already been some 
movement from the government in regard to the opposition's 
demands.  Notably, six persons arrested on November 7, 2007 
during the protests have been freed.  Also, the Director of 
the Georgian Public Broadcaster, Tamar Kintsurashvili, is 
expected to resign before the end of February.  (Note: As of 
now, Post is unaware that the opposition and government have 
agreed on a compromise candidate for Levan Tarkhnishvili, 
Chairman of the Central Election Commission.  Parliament 
Speaker Burjanadze told the Ambassador that the opposition 
has suggested a respected judge but has not provided a 
specific name.  End note.) 
 
--------------------------------- 
What's Next for Republicans, UNC? 
--------------------------------- 
 
4. (SBU) Usupashvili said much internal debate still exists 
within the UNC regarding party lists for the Spring 
parliamentary elections, how many there should be, and which 
parties - if any - should join together on joint lists. 
According to Usupashvili, Gachechiladze is pressuring the 
Republicans to remain in the UNC (contrary to a prior, 
internal Republican Party vote), because he does not want to 
lead a ticket of which they are not a member.  Usupashvili 
said that Gachechiladze himself is now under more pressure to 
stay, following his speech on February 22. 
 
5. (C) Usupashvili expressed frustration at the cumbersome 
decision-making process in the UNC. He said every party has a 
vote, and a decision requires a "consensus, or consensus 
minus one."  The UNC's goals have changed significantly since 
the group was formed in September 2007 to change the date of 
parliamentary elections in the Constitution, said 
Usupashvili.  If the New Rightists party (led by MP David 
 
TBILISI 00000304  002 OF 002 
 
 
Gamkrelidze) were to join the UNC and allow for multiple 
parties within the UNC to run on separate lists, Usupashvili 
said this would be one of the better scenarios for the 
Republicans.  Although Usupashvili and Gamkrelidze have 
spoken informally about their parties joining forces, 
Usupashvili said the Republicans must see what other parties 
do (e.g. Giorgi Targamadze and his new Christian-Democrats), 
prior to relinquishing any more of his party's autonomy. 
 
-----------
---------- 
An Appeal for Support 
--------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Usupashvili suggested that even if the USG cannot 
mediate talks between the opposition and government, he said 
it would reassure the UNC if someone from the international 
community could be "present" with Burjanadze around the 
negotiations.  Usupashvili believes that this would help hold 
the government accountable to any agreement, as well as the 
opposition.  Usupashvili said that the UNC leadership would 
suggest the same thing to the OSCE at a meeting later in the 
day.  (Note: Poloff told Usupashvili that the Ambassador had 
met with Speaker Burjanadze earlier in the week and continues 
to encourage both sides to negotiate in good faith.  We will 
continue to stay in close touch with both sides, but believe 
a more direct role is not appropriate at this time.  End 
note.) 
 
7. (SBU) Usupashvili noted that increased international 
support for the independent, media-monitoring Michnik Group 
would also be helpful.  He said this was important due to the 
complications surrounding Imedi TV (Note: Due to a government 
investigation into owner Badri Patarkatsishvili's plans to 
overthrow the government, Imedi TV's already murky future 
became even less clear following Patarkatsishvili's death on 
February 12.  End note.)  Usupashvili said that both the 
opposition and government still respect the Michnik Group 
enough, that with an increased role and power, it can be 
effective in ensuring balance in the media during the coming 
election.  Usupashvili said that during the January election, 
political ads on Rustavi-2 and Mze (both owned by friends of 
the government), cost 8-10 times more than a commercial ad 
for the same timespot. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
8. (C) On September 24, five leaders of the opposition met 
with CODEL Price and the Ambassador, including Usupashvili, 
Kukava, and Gamkrelidze (details reported septel).  The 
differences (noted by Usupashvili on February 22) between MP 
Kahka Kukava's Conservatives and the moderates were kept 
under wraps during the meeting.  Rather, the group of 
opposition leaders focused - and generally agreed on - 
genuine areas of concern facing democratic development in 
Georgia: notably, freedom of the press and expression, truly 
independent election administration at all levels, 
wiretapping of opposition members, the lack of a strong, 
independent judiciary, and the need for some type of 
Parliamentary oversight of law enforcement activities 
comprised the main areas of concern. 
 
9. (C) Despite the common front with which the opposition 
addressed the CODEL, centrifugal political pressures are 
clearly growing within the opposition.  The open differences 
voiced publicly after the vote to call off the hunger strikes 
reflected the widening differences between the moderates and 
radicals.  The press reported the vote took place after an 
all-night meeting, in which the press heard violent arguments 
behind closed doors.  Heated exchanges over tactics cover 
more fundamental approaches to democratic governance.  The 
moderates (like Usupashvili) focus on the upcoming elections 
while more radicals simply want to engage in street 
theater/confrontation.  The moderates are also undoubtedly 
hearing a growing chorus of popular disillusionment with the 
tactics and rhetoric of political confrontation, and a public 
desire for compromise. 
TEFFT

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