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Georgian Opposition Postpones Rally In Tbilisi Over Deadly Fire

The fire in Baghdati killed six people.
The fire in Baghdati killed six people.

TBILISI -- Georgian opposition groups have postponed a rally in the capital, Tbilisi, due to a deadly fire in the central town of Baghdati that claimed six lives, including four children, a pregnant woman, and an elderly female.

Gigi Ugulava, a leader of the European Georgia party, confirmed the rally scheduled for February 4 in front of the parliament has been postponed and expressed condolences to friends and relatives of the deceased. He also called on lawmakers to postpone their session due to the tragedy.

"In the wake of a dramatic tragedy of such a scale, we all need time to mourn, to commemorate, to contemplate, and postpone our ambitions. I would like to call the current parliament to move today's session to another day," Ugulava said.

Parliament opened its session on February 4 with an expression of condolences to the relatives of the fire victims.

The head of the parliamentary committee for human rights, Sopio Kiladze, said that despite the tragedy, parliament "had to follow the requirements of the constitution."

"Under the constitution, we are obliged to open the session on the first Tuesday of February," Kiladze said.

Georgian opposition parties have complained that the country's electoral system unfairly favors the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Several mass protests were held in Tbilisi over the summer, which were violently dispersed by police.

Changing the electoral system to a proportional one from 2020 was one of the demands of the thousands of demonstrators who rallied for weeks in Tbilisi in June and July.

The United States and the European Union have called on the Georgian government, political parties, and civil society to engage in a "calm and respectful dialogue."

U.S. lawmakers recently expressed their frustration over what they call "backsliding" on Georgia’s commitments to build democratic institutions in the country, a development that could potentially result in the United States reducing support to the Caucasus nation.

In a letter to Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia that was released on January 29, Senator Jim Risch and Jeanne Shaheen wrote that they were "increasingly concerned" about the state of democracy and governance in the country.

Risch is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while Shaheen is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation.

That letter followed on the heels of a similar warning from Republican Congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Michael McCaul and Democrats Gerald Connolly and Eliot Engel, who wrote a letter to Georgian officials dated January 21 that said it was "unacceptable" that the ruling Georgian Dream party had funded "an extensive network of accounts" on Facebook, "apparently spreading antidemocratic, anti-Western sentiments" just a year before parliamentary elections.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani is currently in Washington on an official visit.