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The Daily Beat: 8 April

Georgia marks two historical events on April 9: a brutal repression of the pro-independence protests in Tbilisi in 1989 by the Soviet Army, which left 21 dead and hundreds of injured by poison gas deployed by the troops. In 1991, following the defeat of the Communist Party by the pro-independence coalition in the polls in 1990, and the subsequent referendum on independence in March 1991, the Georgian parliament announced the restoration of Georgia’s independence.

Throughout the weekend and on Monday, the wave of international condemnation has been expanding following the decision of the ruling party to re-introduce the “foreign agents” bill that, if adopted, is likely to curtail the operation of civic associations and independent media.

More than 400 CSOs (the number is growing) have denounced the bill, as did the media saying the government “does not want to hear the voices” from the provinces and far-flung places. President Salome Zurabishvili, who shares that sentiment, spoke to the Ambassadors and promised to veto the bill, but the ruling party could easily overcome her veto.

PM Kobakhidze is adamant the bill is “sound” and “entirely thought through.” He lambasted the CSOs for what he called “censorship” when social media platforms, such as Meta’s Facebook, removed the ruling party’s attack ads concerning the bill. In the meantime, watchdogs pointed to a coordinated social media campaign by the ruling party engaging civil servants and local government officials, who are under strict instructions on what messages to post. The Georgian Dream MP Dito Samkharadze confirmed he was coordinating the campaign and said the “party has been calling [on civil servants and party activists] to tear lies and malevolence over the heads” of “people without a nation”, “natsis” [a pejorative reference to UNM] and “natsiNGOs” and who “are aiming against country’s independence try to rule the country with black foreign cash.”

In the meantime, the Parliament Bureau has delayed the formal review of the bill till April 15, seemingly to leave plausible deniability ahead of PM Kobakhidze’s visit to Berlin, which is scheduled for April 12. CSOs picketed the parliament and are planning a larger “March for Freedom” on April 9.

Also delayed was the verdict in the court proceedings in Lazare Grigoridis case. Grigoriadis, 23, was arrested in connection with the March 7-9 protests against the first iteration of the Foreign Agents’ law. The prosecution says he threw a petrol bomb at the police car, while the defense says Grigoriadis is innocent as he is being ‘vilified’ in a political trial as a poster child of the Gen-Z protesters who made the ruling party withdraw that law. Judge Zviad Sharadze said the verdict is expected in “reasonable time.”

An explosion rocked one of Tbilisi’s shooting clubs on April 7, killing three on the spot; another man succumbed to injuries in the hospital. One of the deceased was identified as Col. Yuri Lomidze, which triggered speculation of foul play, including from the Gen. (ret.) Gogi Tatukhashvili, former commander of the Interior Troops. Col. Lomidze was involved in the 2007 clash in Kodori, Upper Abkhazia, where Georgian special forces reportedly killed two Russian military intelligence (GRU) officers. Five of the Georgian participants died under suspicious circumstances in 2014, triggering persistent rumors of “GRU revenge.”

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PM Kobakhidze held the cabinet meeting and announced a massive debt write-off for citizens and businesses with outstanding tax penalties. Tax relief, pardon of penalties, and salary hikes for public employees have been traditional campaign tricks at the disposal of the governing parties in Georgia. In a new twist, PM instructed the Ministry of Economy to make sure cheap flights to Germany are available for those who would want to travel to the European football championship.

At the same cabinet meeting, PM Kobakhidze presented a white elephant project – the new Tbilisi International Airport at the current site of the Vaziani military airfield, which he said, would boost passenger capacity, encourage tourism, and boost GDP.

Giorgi Gakharia’s party, “For Georgia,” has initiated a counter-draft law which, they say, would boost CSO transparency without repressive overtones of the government’s draft. The “For Georgia” submission would amend the current law “On Grants” to boost transparency and reporting requirements.

The National Agency of Public Registry of Georgia (NAPR) canceled the registration of the pro-Russian, anti-liberal “Conservative Movement/Alt-info” party, according to the decision issued on April 8.


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