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Georgia: Ousted Foreign Minister Launches Civic Movement

Salome Zurabishvili (file photo) (RFE/RL) Former Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili today officially launched a new movement whose main purpose she said will be to offer civil society a new platform of expression. The move comes less than two weeks after Zurabishvili lost her ministerial portfolio amid a bitter dispute with pro-government lawmakers.

Prague, 1 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Addressing reporters after she inaugurated the Tbilisi office of her movement, Zurabishvili said her main aim was to help Georgia develop into a "truly modern European state."

To achieve this goal, she said, she would rely first and foremost on civil society.

"We want to work with society and within society so that society can play a role in building the country -- a role that it has been deprived of up until now," Zurabishvili said.

Zurabishvili said the movement that bears her name would not become a party for the time being.

But the former foreign minister had made it clear earlier that her movement would take part in upcoming municipal and legislative elections.

Zurabishvili said that although she sees herself as adhering to center-right views, she would keep the ranks of her movement open to all citizens who share her values, regardless of their political affiliation.

She said she expected the Salome Zurabishvili Movement to get official registration within a month.

Among those who attended Tuesday's ceremony was Emzar Kvitsiani, a former presidential envoy to the Kodori Gorge. Also present was former Samtskhe-Javakheti Governor Gela Kvaratskhelia.

Kvitsiani said he had still not decided whether to join the new movement. But Kvaratskhelia was more supportive.

"I came here to express my support to a person who, in my view, has correctly and thoughtfully expressed the problems that face our country today," Kvaratskhelia said. "I also support her approach and the way she plans to solve these problems."

A former French ambassador to Tbilisi, Zurabishvili was brought into the Georgian government a few weeks after Saakashvili was elected president in January 2004.

During her tenure, Zurabishvili secured a pledge from Russia that it will close its two remaining military bases in Georgia by the end of 2008. The agreement, reached in May of this year, has still to be ratified by the presidents of both countries.

Yielding to pressure from his allies in parliament, Saakashvili dismissed Zurabishvili from office on 19 October.

Addressing a cabinet meeting the next day, the Georgian president cited disorganization and chaos at the Foreign Ministry to justify his decision. He also referred to accusations made by some lawmakers that cronyism had been flourishing at the Foreign Ministry during Zurabishvili's tenure.
Zurabishvili has blamed alleged "neocommunist" forces with purported links to Russia for her dismissal as foreign minister.

Zurabishvili has denied those accusations.

Her sacking triggered a mini-crisis in the government.

Georgia's Minister of Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava on 26 October criticized Zurabishvili's opponents in parliament. He said the former top diplomat instead deserved praise for negotiating the closure of Russia's military bases.

"I think she was one of Georgia's most successful ministers. Georgia had been waiting 204 years for what Kalbatoni [ed. a polite form of referring to a woman in Georgian] Salome achieved," Khaindrava said. "I believe this was an event of utmost importance and that Kalbatoni Salome was a key participant in it. I think the statements [that were made against her] and the way they were made are totally unacceptable."

Zurabishvili has blamed alleged "neocommunist" forces with purported links to Russia for her dismissal.

Some Georgian political analysts, in turn, believe that Zurabishvili's criticism of Georgia's clan politics prompted Saakashvili to drop her. Others experts believe a dispute with parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze over the influence of the legislature on Georgia's foreign policy was the reason behind her dismissal.

Zurabishvili has hinted that she may run as a candidate in the 2009 presidential elections. And there are indications that she is potentially popular among voters.

The day following Zurabishvili's dismissal, thousands of people gathered at a Tbilisi racetrack to express their support.

That same day, the "Rezonansi" newspaper conducted a snap opinion survey indicating that one-third of its respondents would cast their ballot for Zurabishvili, or any candidate affiliated with her, if parliamentary elections were held immediately.

Whether Zurabishvili will be able to maintain this momentum will depend on several factors.

Political analysts say it will first of all depend on her ability to build a real power base and collect funding.

In recent interviews with foreign media, Zurabishvili said she hoped to get support from the Georgian diaspora.

So far, Zurabishvili's financial resources look scarce.

Her husband and aide, former television anchorman Janri Kashia, told reporters on Tuesday that the Salome Zurabishvili Movement had no immediate plans to open regional headquarters.

Kashia said the opening of such offices would solely depend on personal initiatives.

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