- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Reforming Georgia

The recent visit to Georgia by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III is changing the hidebound politics of the former Soviet republic, the leader of a pro-Western political party said yesterday.

David Gamkrelidze, chairman of the New Rights Party, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that the visit impressed on Georgian leaders that the United States expects free and fair parliamentary elections on Nov. 2.

Georgian political reformers saw the July 5 visit as a strong signal from the Bush administration because Mr. Baker served under President Bush’s father and is a close friend of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Mr. Gamkrelidze hopes his party will benefit from any improvement in the electoral climate. Western observers have criticized past elections for voter fraud and intimidation. Political parties tend to be built around personalities, rather than principles, he said.

Mr. Gamkrelidze, whose party is building a strong grass-roots base, is unique in Georgian politics because it is based on Western democracy, free-market economics and corruption-free government. The New Rights Party also supports Georgia’s membership in NATO.

The party also endorses a flat tax of 12 percent and an elimination of the value-added tax.

“We decided to establish a political party that is different, that is based on a political philosophy, not on personalities,” he said. “Everybody knows that if Shevardnadze resigns, his party will disappear.”

Mr. Gamkrelidze’s party is running second or third in public-opinion polls.

“On Nov. 2, Georgians will choose the direction of the country between Western values or a return to an authoritarian regime,” he said.

Mr. Gamkrelidze predicted that Russia, which still has nearly 2,000 troops in Georgia, will interfere in the election by offering campaign money to other opposition parties to continue its influence in the nation.

“Our party is the only political party that has a huge network, that represents the whole country. We can speak on behalf of the entire people,” he said. “Our supporters are not a private army for the party.”

Mr. Gamkrelidze is in Washington this week for meetings with members of Congress, including Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and members of the House Armed Services Committee. Before arriving in Washington, he met with Mr. Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to discuss ways to improve tourism in Georgia, famous for its Black Sea resorts.

Money for Uganda

U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Johnny Kolker this week signed a $62 million development-assistance package for the Central African nation President Bush visited last week and praised for its fight against AIDS.

Mr. Kolker and Finance Minister Gerald Ssendaula signed the agreement on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Keith Muhakanizi said the assistance will be given through the U.S. Agency for International Development. The United States gave Uganda $50 million last year.

The assistance will help Uganda continue its efforts to reduce the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Uganda dramatically cut the rate of AIDS through a dynamic public policy campaign that urged abstinence and contraception.

The money will also support agriculture, biodiversity programs, education and child care.

Mr. Bush last week praised Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for his anti-AIDS campaign. Mr. Bush has pledged $15 billion over five years to fight the disease in Africa, the most infected area in the world, and in the Caribbean.

“You have shown the world what is possible,” Mr. Bush said. “Uganda, by confronting AIDS aggressively, has given hope to all of Africa.”

Nicaragua blocks ICC

Nicaragua has signed an agreement with the United States to shield the citizens of both countries from the International Criminal Court, the Nicaraguan Embassy said.

The embassy said Nicaragua acted to protect its citizens from extradition to the court in cases brought by a foreign power. The agreement also protects U.S. citizens in Nicaragua from what Washington fears could be politically motivated prosecutions.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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