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Tbilisi Concerned over Political Standoff in Sokhumi
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 28 May.'14 / 17:07

Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, Davit Zalkaliani, expressed “concern” over “alarming processes taking place in Georgia’s occupied territory” of Abkhazia.

Opposition leaders remain in control of the presidential headquarters in Sokhumi, which the protesters, who want Abkhaz leader Alexander Ankvab’s resignation, took over late last night.

Georgian deputy foreign minister, Davit Zalkaliani, said on Wednesday that he was in touch with co-chairs of the Geneva discussions from OSCE and UN, Angelo Gnädinger and Antti Turunen, respectively, and stressed “the need for active involvement of the international community, first and foremost of the co-chairs of the Geneva talks, in order not to allow further escalation of situation.”

The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that its concerns were also shared with the EU, which also acts as co-chair of the Geneva talks along with the UN and OSCE.

Georgian deputy state minister for reconciliation and civic equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, also said that current developments in the breakaway region are source of concern for Tbilisi.

“We hope that the situation will be resolved peacefully,” she told journalists on May 28.

Tsikhelashvili also said that safety of all the residents of the region is the main concern of Tbilisi and stressed that ethnic Georgian population of Gali district in the breakaway region is especially “vulnerable” when it comes to human rights abuses.

Coordinating Council, an umbrella group of opposition parties and movements behind the current protests in Sokhumi, was set up last year and originally it was established for the purpose of challenging Ankvab on “passportization” process in eastern parts of Abkhazia, including the Gali district, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Georgians.

Ankvab’s approach, also tried by his late predecessor and ally Sergey Bagapsh, which aimed at facilitating engagement of ethnic Georgians of Gali with rest of the breakaway region including through distributing Abkhaz passports, was slammed by opposition groups as threat to “Abkhaz sovereignty.”

Although this issue still remains in focus of Coordinating Council, its agenda has evolved since then to include challenging Ankvab on much broader issues ranging from social and economic problems to lack of democratic reforms.

This issue of passportization of Georgians in Gali was heard in speeches of some opposition figures during a protest rally in Sokhumi on May 27.

Ex-interior minister of the breakaway region, Leonid Dzapshba, told the rally that Ankvab was arbitrarily indiscriminately handing out Abkhaz passports to tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians in Gali. He also said that while Ankvab was opening border-crossing points on Enguri river, “only one border-crossing point operates with our friend Russia.”

Georgian deputy foreign minister, Davit Zalkaliani, said that statements that have been voiced in the breakaway region about “discrimination of the Georgian population on the ground of ethnicity” are source of “alarm.” He said that so called passportization issue is being used by some forces in the breakaway region for their political purposes.

UNM Sees Russia’s Hand

Earlier on May 28, MP Davit Bakradze, the leader of UNM parliamentary minority group, said that developments in Sokhumi and some of the slogans voiced there in respect of Georgians of the Gali district triggers suspicion that Russia might be trying to annex Abkhazia.

“This is a very real threat and the Georgian state should do everything in order to avoid this threat,” MP Bakradze said, adding that although Tbilisi’s options are limited to influence on developments in Abkhazia, it should undertake intensive international efforts together with its partners “to minimize threat of annexation of Abkhazia by Russia.”

Giga Bokeria, a foreign secretary of UNM opposition party, said that developments in the breakaway region “is a serious challenge” to Georgia’s security, for the residents of the region, and especially for ethnic Georgians of the Gali district. He also criticized the Georgian authorities for, as he put it, not acting “proactively” to draw international community’s attention towards this problem. 

Deputy state minister for reconciliation and civic equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, said that it is “premature” to make such conclusions that current developments in Abkhazia will lead to a so called referendum, something similar to Crimea, and annexation by Russia. “The context is completely different,” she said.

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