Georgia's ruling party announces sweeping electoral reform

Photo: EPA Opposition supporters protest in front of Georgian parliament in Tbilisi on 23 June.

The leader of Georgia's ruling party says the ex-Soviet nation will hold the next parliamentary election based entirely on a proportionate system, fulfilling a key demand of anti-government protesters, news wires reported. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream party, on Monday announced a "large-scale political reform". There will also be no threshold for parties to enter parliament, he said.

The statement followed four days of protests in the capital Tbilisi. Thousands of demonstrators have rallied in front of parliament, demanding changes in the electoral law and the ouster of the interior minister whom they blame for a violent dispersal of Thursday's rally, when demonstrators tried to storm parliament, angered by a Russian lawmaker taking the speaker's seat during an international event.

It was unclear whether the announcement would be enough to mollify protesters, who were also demanding a snap vote and planning another demonstration for Monday night.The protests have sparked a political crisis and raised tensions with Moscow to levels not seen in years. In response to the protests Russian President Vladimir Putin banned Russian airlines from flying to Georgia and Georgian air carriers travelling to Russia.

Relations between the two countries have long been fractured over Tbilisi's efforts to join the European Union and NATO. The confrontation culminated in a war over Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008.After the war, which claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers and civilians from both sides, Moscow recognised South Ossetia and another separatist enclave, Abkhazia, as independent states where it then stationed permanent military bases. Tbilisi and its Western allies denounced the move as an "illegal military occupation". The two regions constitute 20% of Georgia's territory.


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