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Georgia: Crisis Between Opposition And Government Deepens

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, a minsiter in a hot seat (file photo) (InterPressNews) Georgia's opposition parties lay out conditions for their return to a parliament that they say ultimately holds responsibility for police violence.

PRAGUE, April 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Two of Georgia's opposition parties have issued a memorandum setting out the conditions under which they will end their boycott of the country's parliament.

The opposition's decision not to attend sessions of parliament came after one of its representatives -- Republican Party member Valeri Gelashvili -- was stripped of his mandate on March 31.

The memorandum was drafted by the Democratic Front, a parliamentary group that brings together elected representatives of the Conservative and Republican parties. It quickly won the backing of a number of other parties.

The leader of the Conservative Party, Koba Davitashvili, said the demands would be sent to President Mikheil Saakashvili and the speaker of parliament, Nino Burjanadze.

"It is clear that violence in the country originates inside these walls. This [parliamentary] majority is the initiator of the violence in this country."

Davitashvili laid out three conditions. The first comprises three amendments aimed, he said, at making the electoral law "more democratic": equal representation of opposition parties in election commissions; guarantees of a secret vote; and transparent electoral rolls.

The opposition also demanded direct elections for city mayors and the heads of district administrations, and -- lastly -- the resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and the reform and decentralization of the Interior Ministry.

Several other opposition political groupings said after the announcement that they would sign up to the demands.

The leader of the Industrialists Will Save Georgia political grouping, Gogi Topadze, said his party would add its own conditions, including demands that the entire cabinet of ministers resign. Topadze blames the government for allegedly instilling a "climate of fear" among Georgian businessmen.

New Rightists leader Davit Gamkrelidze also backed the memorandum.

Davitashvili said the opposition would hold the Georgian president personally responsible if the opposition's demands are not heeded, warning that it may "resort to other peaceful means of protest" if the authorities "fail to take real steps to resolve the confrontation with the opposition and continue erecting barriers between themselves and the population."

A Parliamentarian Loses His Mandate

The crisis began when, on March 31, Valeri Gelashvili was evicted from parliament by the overwhelmingly pro-government legislature on the grounds that his business interests were incompatible with his political activities.

Announcing the boycott hours after the vote, Pikria Chikhradze, a New Rightists lawmaker, said that the opposition believes "it is useless to work with a [parliamentary] majority that urges us to be constructive, but does not wish to be constructive itself."

The opposition claims the parliament's decision to evict Gelashvili is part of a policy of harassment against government critics.

Georgian government officials earlier accused Gelashvili of being responsible for an arson attack that partially destroyed a Tbilisi school on March 18. They claimed he owned shares in a company that could stand to gain from the reconstruction of the school. Gelashvili has denied the charge and threatened to bring the case before court. He also said he would appeal his eviction from parliament to the Constitutional Court.

Last year, unidentified attackers assaulted Gelashvili in Tbilisi. The incident occurred just days after he gave the Georgian newspaper "Rezonansi" an interview that critics say contained slanderous comments about Saakashvili.

In a report issued on April 5, Georgia's ombudsman, Sozar Subari, said he had reasons to believe authorities were behind the attack on Gelashvili.

A Minister Who Should Lose His Portfolio?

The Georgian opposition also blames the interior minister for what it says is increasing police violence. Rights campaigners have been demanding that Merabishvili step down over the assassination in January of a bank employee by Interior Ministry officials.

Four of Merabishvili's subordinates have been arrested and charged over the murder. Another two were suspended pending completion of the investigation.

Saakashvili has, however, made it clear that he has no intention of sacking the interior minister, whom he praises for fighting crime and corruption.

Addressing reporters in parliament on March 31, Republican Party lawmaker Ivliane Khaindrava blamed Saakashvili and his allies in parliament for the deteriorating climate.

"It is clear that violence in the country originates inside these walls. This [parliamentary] majority is the initiator of the violence in this country," he said.

Parliament Speaker Burjanadze on April 6 criticized the opposition's decision to boycott the legislature, saying pro-government lawmakers would not heed "the language of ultimatums." She said parliament would continue to work "normally" in the absence of opposition representatives.

President Saakashvili has not yet commented on the ongoing political crisis.

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