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Monday, August 20
Salome Zurabishvili Launches Presidential Campaign, Outlines Priorities

MP Salome Zurabishvili, an independent presidential candidate who is thought to enjoy the endorsement of the ruling party, announced the launch of her election campaign before a group of supporters in village Didi Jikhaishi in western Georgia on August 16.

The nearly 50-minute announcement was made in front of the museum of the candidate’s great-grandfather – Niko Nikoladze, a prominent 19th-century writer and public figure.

Zurabishvili said the campaign launch in the museum of Niko Nikoladze, “a genuine statesman,” was right and logical. “This is the place where he embarked upon many of his pursuits, effectively laying a foundation to contemporary Georgia and its economy.”

“I wanted to announce my campaign here not because he is my ancestor, but to show that the President, above all, has to be a statesman. This is what we have forgotten in the political squabbles of recent years; the President has to be different – it has to be for the state and not for a political party or his career,” the presidential hopeful noted.

She then stressed that as president she would deliver “words and deeds,” instead of engaging in political disputes. “The new President has to be an idea-generator, rather than a veto-generator,” the presidential candidate quipped, apparently referring to incumbent President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s frequent use of legislative objections.

Zurabishvili then stressed the Georgian society needs “a unifying” president against the backdrop of “hatred and endless antagonism.” She also said she would serve as a mediator between the state and the people, and pledged to bridge the gap between the two.

The candidate outlined her program priorities as well, saying as president she would work for addressing the “growing” rates of gender violence. She also touched upon the return of emigrants and vowed to establish a special agency for their re-socialization. Zurabishvili said she would work with partners to establish temporary worker quotas for Georgian migrants.

The candidate also pledged to prioritize the issues of the disabled, elderly care and social housing, and promised to address the “semi-clientilist” appointments in state agencies.

Zurabishvili spoke on immigration as well, saying: “Oftentimes, I hear concerns that there is an influx of foreigners; tourism is a source of income for many families, but public concerns, genetically-inherited feelings of fear towards some of our neighbors and the fact that this has happened very quickly, create certain discomfort in our society.”

“Some are saying we are losing our identity, others are saying they are concerned for their safety; the President cannot ignore this and turn a blind eye on it … these are genuine feelings and concerns of our society and the authorities have to pay attention to it and find ways for imposing less restrictive [immigration] regulations so that the process is not perceived as aggression against Georgian identity,” the presidential hopeful added.

She also said she will work with diaspora members, including through setting legislative quotas for their political representation and establishing a diaspora house – a one-stop shop for multiple services – to facilitate their return to Georgia. Zurabishvili added that she would also work for reviving culture and making Georgia a holiday destination for well-off tourists.

Salome Zurabishvili, a French-born career diplomat, announced her candidacy on August 6. The ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, which has decided not to field its candidate for the polls, is reportedly pondering over endorsing Zurabishvili, but not all GDDG members seem to be on board with the decision.

Russian bases in Abkhazia have mushroomed since 2008 war

Since the 2008 war, Russia has expanded its military infrastructure in the breakaway republic Abkhazia dramatically.

There are currently Russian military facilities in Sokhumi, Ochamchire, Gudauta and Gali, as well as the villages Tagiloni, Nabakevi, Pichori, Otobaia, Chuburkhinji, Saberio, Okumi and Lekukhona in the southern Gali district.

In the military facilities located in settlements with predominantly Georgian population, Russian military personnel and their family members barely go out of the gates and live in actual isolation from locals.

“They live in isolation from the world of the ‘little people’. It looks like two parallel worlds. It made me very, very angry,” says a 19 years old resident of Gali, an ethnic Georgian who peeked into the Russian military facility in a village which she is reluctant to identify.

“The military bases are surrounded by big fence, with several residential buildings and full infrastructure inside so that people live without contact with the outside world. There are kids’ entertainment lots inside, in short, [these sites] have everything in place. But they avoid going outside the gates, probably out of fear. Sometimes you can find [family members of Russian military personnel] go for shopping to nearby stores,” she said to DFWatch.

However, it is different in Sokhumi, where the headquarters of the Russian military contingent on Abkhazia is located. This facility is familiar to many ethnic Georgians from Gali, as it lies adjacent to the office which issues ‘visas’ and residence permits.

The military personnel and family members of Russian facilities in Sokhumi have a drastically different lifestyle as they eagerly walk out of and mingle with locals, another Gali resident who recently visited Sokhumi told DFWatch.
(DF watch)