Clinton urges Georgia to hold free, fair elections

BATUMI, Georgia Tue Jun 5, 2012 6:55am EDT

1 of 8. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the opening of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission in Batumi June 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Saul Loeb/Pool

Related Topics

BATUMI, Georgia (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Georgia on Tuesday to hold free and fair elections and underlined U.S. rejection of what she called Russia's "occupation" of two separatist Georgian regions.

Visiting the Black Sea resort of Batumi, Clinton made clear the United States hopes to see democracy strengthened after Mikheil Saakashvili's two terms as president end next year.

While praising Georgia's economic reforms and anti-corruption push, U.S. officials fear the dominance of Saakashvili, who was elected after peaceful protests in 2003 dubbed the "rose revolution", has made it hard for other leaders to emerge ahead of October's parliamentary vote and the 2013 presidential poll.

"Though you did make history with the "rose revolution" the more difficult and ultimately the more important work may well be ahead - the work of building the habits and practices that sustain democracy over time," Clinton said in a speech citing labor rights, independence of the judiciary and media freedoms.

"We urge Georgia's leaders to ensure that it will be a competitive campaign and that elections are free and fair, both on election day and in the months running up to it."

BOOMING BEACH TOWN

One possibility that worries officials in Washington is that Saakashvili, 44, might emulate Russian President Vladimir Putin by shifting to the prime minister's post to retain power when his presidential term expires.

A senior U.S. State Department official declined specific comment on Saakashvili's plans but said the United States had repeatedly emphasized to Georgian politicians "that the next transition should be a genuine one".

Critics accuse Saakashvili of curbing freedoms and leading Georgia into war with Russia in August 2008, when Georgian forces were routed in five days. Moscow swiftly recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and maintains military contingents in the breakaway regions.

Russian recognition of the two as independent nations has clouded Saakashvili's hopes of bringing Georgia into the NATO Western security alliance and the European Union, which may be loath to accept a member with territorial disputes with Moscow.

"We reject Russia's occupation and militarization of Georgian territory and we call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of its forces to pre-conflict positions and free access for humanitarian assistance," Clinton said.

In the middle of a three-day trip to the South Caucasus, Clinton met five Georgian opposition members as a way of illustrating the U.S. desire to see competitive elections.

Billionaire politician Bidzina Ivanishvili did not attend, though his Georgian Dream bloc that has pledged to beat Saakashvili's United National Movement party was represented.

The high-level U.S. visit to Batumi, a booming beach town where five-star hotels are being built and U.S. real estate mogul Donald Trump plans to invest, aimed in part to illustrate the contrast with isolated Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Robert Woodward)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
potgeo wrote:
Well, it is a far from reality to say just “dubbed” about “rose revolution”, or just simple “dominance” on how Saakashvili rules the country, but then again we know that they know who Saakashvili is and the risks
he can take to keep on ruling… So, while Secretary of State “urges” Georgia (?) to hold free and fair elections, she knows – ain’t gonna happen! Why? Just cause it would be the beginning of the end not just for Saakashvili himself, but also for his greedy party elite who are feeding freely on country’s natural resources, budget money and their appetite for absolute power is ascending. Now, if Saakashvili wants to pull “Putin” – what will white house do? Except the results of forged elections and congratulate the Victor, or ??? Having presidential elections ahead, I would doubt Obama would like to have any unrest
in Caucasus so there won’t be any “or”, unless georgians stand united against Sakashvili’s regime and fight!

Jun 05, 2012 10:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.