Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Russian troops remain garrisoned at four military bases and as peacekeepers in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (but are scheduled to withdraw from two of the bases by July 2001). Despite a badly degraded transportation network - brought on by ethnic conflict, criminal activities, and fuel shortages - the country continues to move toward a market economy and greater integration with Western institutions.
Update No: 271 - (24/07/03)
It is not too fine a point to say that the polity of Georgia is for the moment Eduard Shevardnadze, its president since 1992 and formerly the communist president in Soviet times before becoming Foreign Minister of the USSR under Gorbachev. Aware of his international status, voters have given him resounding endorsement of over 90% in elections. "This is embarrassing," he said at the time.
Indeed, it has been. The obvious implication has been that the elections were rigged. But in fact they almost certainly were not.
Shevardnadze accepts US plan
President Shevardnadze has said that he was ready to accept a US proposal to reform the country's electoral commission to ensure that November's parliamentary voting is free and fair.
A former US secretary of state, James Baker, spent two days in the former Soviet republic recently to try to break a parliamentary deadlock over the composition of the electoral commission.
The plan still needs the assembly's approval. Under the US plan, the commission now dominated by pro-government parties, will comprise five government-nominated members and nine chosen by the opposition.
New Washington slant
The acceptance of the US as the arbiter is all part of Georgia's new pro-Washington slant. It is aiming to join the Western camp via NATO and the expanding European Union.
The former is perhaps only years away; but the latter possibly decades. The country is too much under Russia's presence (which has military bases there) to join NATO early on, while it is too far away, on the Eastern shores of the Black Sea and the other side of Ukraine, and Turkey, to join the EU for a very long time.
It is, moreover, too poor. Its top priority is and must be economic reform and cooperation with the West. The Georgian government is prepared to fight poverty and boost economic growth via a national programme, worth 4.27 billion laris, to be developed for 2003-2015. Temur Basiliya, the programme's coordinator, has said that the project will receive 75 per cent funding from the state budget. The other 25 per cent will come from financial institutions and donor countries. "The plan provides for boosting gross domestic product (GDP) two to three times from 7.28 billion laris in 2002, to more than 21.8 billion laris by 2015," Basiliya averred.
Georgia, Israel to cooperate in aircraft industry
Chairwoman of the Georgian Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, has met with the vice-president of the largest Israeli company, Israel Aircraft Industries, Mr Shim'on Eckhaus, in Tel Aviv, Kavkasia-Press News Agency reported, quoting information from the press service of the Georgian Parliament.
Eckhaus said at the meeting that the company's annual output totalled US$3bn, 80 per cent of which were exports.
The vice-president noted that there was a certain similarity between Israel and Georgia as neither country was able to purchase new systems. Therefore, the company's main area of activity is the modernization of existing systems.
Nino Burjanadze said that Georgia would be glad to cooperate with such a large and experienced company as Israel Aircraft Industries in the spheres of production of both passenger and military aircraft. Eckhaus said that the company could provide assistance to Georgia in this regard. He also noted that his company might hand over to Georgia technologies for the above-mentioned activities.
IMF backs bond issue to clear wage, pension debt
Minister of State, Avtandil Jorbenadze, has said that the IMF mission has supported government proposals for three-year bonds to be issued to clear the pension and wage arrears accumulated in 1998-2001, Prime-News News Agency has reported.
At a meeting with ministers in charge of the economy, Jorbenadze said that mechanisms to provide security for the bonds would be clarified in discussions with the IMF.
The pension and wage arrears accumulated in 1998-2001 amount to 150m lari.
Georgian president sees ties with IMF, World Bank as basis for progress
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has praised Georgia's cooperation with the IMF, the World Bank and other international organizations. In his weekly radio interview, Shevardnadze said it would be "difficult to imagine" any success in Georgia's democratic development without this cooperation. He described the IMF-sponsored poverty reduction and economic growth programme as a "comprehensive" document providing for the "completion of liberal reforms" in Georgia. He said the effectiveness of the fight against corruption was a major prerequisite of the successful completion of the programme. The implementation of the programme depends on the "full use local resources," including "intellectual" resources, he said.
Commenting on the forthcoming parliamentary elections, Shevardnadze said that it would be essential to call an extraordinary session of the Georgian Parliament to discuss election issues and to reach a consensus on moot points. He said it was very likely that he would be meeting leaders of parliamentary factions to discuss these issues but this meeting would take place only after the factions had reached a consensus on major issues in parliament. He warned the opposition that they could not expect the authorities to "capitulate" and make unreasonable or "one-sided" concessions on the election code issues. He also warned the parties involved that unless a "reasonable compromise" was reached, the elections would be conducted under the current law and by the incumbent electoral commission. Shevardnadze said it was unacceptable to "bargain" on the election issues and did not rule out the possibility of making an address to the population on the election issues.
Shevardnadze described a visit to Georgia by the president of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, as "very significant."
He said it was "natural rather than accidental" that Kocharyan chose Georgia as the first country to which he made an official visit as a newly elected president of Armenia. He spoke of "age-long" ties between the two country and said he was proud that therewere over 150 Armenian-language schools and an Armenian drama theatre in Georgia. He also noted that Armenia took an interest in many international projects currently being implemented in Georgia.
Shevardnadze spoke of "tangible" progress in the implementation of agreements reached with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi earlier this year. He said consultations with Russia on the restoration of electric power facilities were productive, admitting, however, that the railway traffic restoration project was being delayed a little because it "fully depended" on the return of refugees to Gali District.
On the ongoing construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Shevardnadze said he had not expected construction work to be conducted at such a "quick pace." He spoke about various benefits the population of Georgia was gaining from the construction. He said that many people had already been given jobs and many local residents had already received compensation for their land, noting that over 11m lari had already been paid to residents of three districts of Georgia.
Previewing his forthcoming visit to the GUUAM summit in Yalta, Shevardnadze said it would be a "perfect opportunity" to outline ways of the further strengthening of the alliance, even though the Azeri and Uzbek presidents were not going to attend the summit.
FOOD & DRINK
Georgian drinks company to start exports to Iraq
Forty-five thousand bottles of beer and the same number of ice tea bottles have been loaded on to two containers at the Qazbegi company's breweries in Tbilisi and Rustavi, which are to be sent to Iraq, Prime-News News Agency has reported.
Prime-News was told at Qazbegi that, under a long-term contract, seven brands of ice tea, four brands of lemonade and five brands of beer are to be exported to Iraq.
Qazbegi also intends to enter the US market. The first batch of 32,000 bottles is to be exported to America shortly.
Georgia to lose Eutelsat shares to pay off debt
The Georgian government is mulling a plan to give up its 0.458% stake in international satellite communications services company Eutelsat in order to pay off its debt to the latter, an unnamed source at the Transport and Communications Ministry was quoted as saying by Interfax News Agency. The debt stands at about 800,000 Euro.
"Having been unable to receive payment of the debt over the past year and a half, Eutelsat, one of the biggest satellite communications companies in Europe, said it planned to cut off satellite communications to Georgia's first TV and radio channels," the source was quoted as saying. Because of the sale Georgia will be unable to broadcast its information in Europe, Africa and Asia.
"At the moment a draft memorandum of mutual understanding is being prepared, including a restructuring of the debt, which it is planned to freeze until 2004," the source said. With regard to this issue, a delegation from the Georgian Transport and Communications Ministry recently visited the Eutelsat headquarters in Paris, where it held talks with company management, Interfax reported. According to the source, it is likely that the debt can be paid next year once the Georgian stake in Eutelsat is sold on the bourse.
Georgia purchased shares in Eutelsat a decade ago and has been using its international satellite communications services since October 1999. Georgia raised it stake in Eutelsat from 0.05% to 0.458% three years ago.
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