KUTAISI, Georgia -- Senior Georgian government officials have snubbed President Giorgi Margvelashvili's state of the nation address for the second straight year, underscoring persistent rifts in the nation's leadership.
Margvelashvili emphasized Georgia's aspirations for greater integration with the West in his address at the parliament in the city of Kutaisi on March 31, saying Georgia is "historically and culturally" a European nation.
"Today, when the world is in the process of finding a new order, not only do we need Europe, but the West and Europe need a strong, democratic Georgia," Margvelashvili said.
The heads of Georgia's top courts and the central bank joined lawmakers, civil society representatives, and foreign diplomats in the audience.
But Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and other government ministers stayed away, as they did last year.
Garibashvili said on March 26 that government members need not attend. He argued that under constitutional changes adopted in 2010, the president is no longer head of the executive branch.
Garibashvili said he would watch the address on TV.
Margvelashvili’s annual state of the nation was initially planned for March 18.
It was postponed to March 31 on Margvelashvili's request amid debates between lawmakers of the opposition United National Movement (ENM) party and the ruling Georgian Dream coalition regarding the address's format.
Margvelashvili said in his state of the nation sppech that the date of his 2015 address -- March 31, was very symbolic for him as it is the birthday of Georgia's first President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who would be 76 if he were alive and the 24th anniversary of Georgia's referendum on reinstatement of its independence.
Tensions have been on display since Margvelashvili and Garibashvili took office in 2013.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, a tycoon whose coalition defeated longtime leader Mikheil Saakashvili's party in a 2012 election, named Garibashvili as his successor in November 2013.
Margvelashvili was elected president in October 2013.
With reporting by civil.ge