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Georgia: Parliament Brings About Foreign Minister's Dismissal

Salome Zourabichvili (file photo) (RFE/RL) In a move that the opposition New Rightist parliament faction believes heralds Georgia's "return to the Russian orbit," Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghadeli dismissed Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili on 19 October. In announcing that decision to journalists, Noghaideli repeated -- and implicitly gave credence to -- criticisms of Zourabichvili expressed by parliament in recent days. Zourabichvili, who was born in Paris into an emigre family and made a successful career in the French diplomatic service before joining the Georgian government early last year at Saakashvili's personal request, has announced that she intends to remain in Georgia and enter politics in the hope of defeating what she termed forces that support Russia and neocommunism.

Zourabichvili's dismissal marks the culmination of a week of mounting criticism of her by parliament deputies. During a protracted discussion on 11-12 October, several parliament deputies lambasted Zourabichvili for her ministry's tardiness in submitting to the legislature for ratification the European Convention on National Minorities. Georgia pledged to ratify that convention when it joined the Council of Europe six years ago, and legislators duly did so on 13 October, Caucasus Press reported. The Foreign Ministry rejected the personal criticism of Zourabichvili, who was visiting the United Kingdom and Ireland, as "groundless" and "unsubstantiated," and protested the "insulting" tone adopted during the debate by parliamentarian David Kirkitadze of the majority United National Movement (GEM), Caucasus Press reported on 14 October. On 17 October, deputies representing the GEM took issue with the Foreign Ministry riposte, and demanded that whichever official drafted it be reprimanded; speaker Burdjanadze commented that even former Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze "never dared" to criticize the parliament in such terms.

Then on 18 October, the Georgian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee decided after a two-hour meeting with Zourabichvili to ask Noghaideli to dismiss her, Caucasus Press reported. They said that if Noghaideli refused to do so, they would raise the issue of impeaching Zourabichvili. Judging by comments from parliament deputy speaker Mikhail Machavariani, the catalyst for that demand was a written complaint addressed to parliament by three senior Georgian ambassadors accusing Zourabichvili of protectionism; nepotism; ignoring subordinates' requests to contact them; and ordering ambassadors to report directly to her, rather than to the parliament. Parliament speaker Burdjanadze accused Zourabichvili of "disrespect" for the parliament and characterized her behavior as "unprofessional"; she said the parliament "cannot continue" to work with Zourabichvili, Caucasus Press reported.

The tensions between Zourabichvili and the parliament date back more than a year. In September 2004, Burdjanadze raised at a session of the parliament bureau Zourabichvili's imputed responsibility for the likelihood that Georgia would be stripped of its voting rights at the UN for its failure over a period of many years to pay its membership dues. The bureau on that occasion considered, but then abandoned, the idea of seeking Zourabichvili's impeachment. And in June, the opposition Conservative parliament faction demanded that Zourabichvili should personally appear before parliament and explain to deputies why she continues to draw a monthly salary of 15,000 euros ($17,900) as a French diplomat in addition to the 3,000 laris ($1,700) she receives from the Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported on 11 June.

Elena Tevdoradze, who chairs the parliament's committee on human rights and has been one of Zourabichvili's most outspoken critics, explicitly denied on 17 October that personal animosity played any role in deputies' repeated criticisms of Zourabichvili. In a poll conducted by the weekly "Kviris palitra" and summarized on 9 August by Caucasus Press, 70 percent of the 500 respondents identified Zourabichvili as the most intelligent member of the government. In another poll two months earlier, she was rated by 46 percent of respondents as the most popular among the government ministers, Caucasus Press reported on 6 June.

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