Georgia’s 5th president sworn in, opposition protests continue
The inauguration ceremony for President Salome Zurabishvili was held today in Telavi at the palace of Irakli II.
She officially took office as the fifth president of Georgia and is the first female president in the history of Georgia. Zurabishvili declared the main goals of her presidency during her address: the unification of the country, a less polarised society and a place for Georgia in Europe.
Supporters of the united opposition coalition, led by presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze, intended to protest in Telavi this afternoon. The opposition does not recognize Zurabishvili as president, claiming that the election results are fraudulent and that the election was engineered.
Throughout the day, opposition forces and police were at a stand off as the latter prevent the former from reaching Telavi. Some were injured and beaten.
The inauguration ceremony began at 15:00 local time and lasted 40 minutes – this was the first time the inauguration ceremony of the Georgian president did not take place in Tbilisi. Traditionally, the president of Georgia is sworn in next to parliament in Tbilisi on Rustaveli Avenue.
Around 1,800 guests were invited to the inauguration, including government officials, the foreign diplomatic corps, cultural figures and others.
The event was not open to journalists, but they were seated in a special room where they could observe the event on a large screen.
The absence of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former Prime Minister of Georgia, de facto leader of the country and the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream, was striking given that he personally insisted on Zurabishvili’s candidacy.
Zurabishvili was dressed in the colors of the state flag of Georgia.
REUTERS/ Irakli Gedenidze
REUTERS/ Irakli Gedenidze
Salome Zurabishvili and Georgian Patriarch Ilia II. REUTERS/ Irakli Gedenidze
The former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was also present. REUTERS/ Irakli Gedenidze
The forth and former president of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili. REUTERS/ Irakli Gedenidze
She was greeted by outgoing President Giorgi Margvelashvili. This was the first case in the history of Georgia of the outgoing president participating in the inauguration ceremony of the president-elect.
A JAMnews collage about the inaugurations of the previous four presidents
The second president elected in 1995 was Eduard Shevardnadze – he governed Georgia for 11 years and was forced to retire by the Rose Revolution of 2003. Photo: The inauguration of the second president, Eduard Shevardnadze, 2000. REUTERS
“I am the descendant of emigrants.”
The inaugural speech of Salome Zurabishvili began with the words:
“It is significant that now, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence, I, who was born [outside the country], became the president of Georgia. The circle is closed. A descendant of emigrants who left Georgia due to its occupation by the eleventh army of Soviet Russia, have today returned as the commander in chief and wearing the Constitution, as the defender of the country’s independence.”
On the political confrontation
Zurabishvili said “Georgia has lost years in political confrontation”.
She promised that one of her main goals will be to end this confrontation:
“First of all, I myself will set an example to fellow citizens and try to convince them that national accord is vital for the development and unification of Georgia,” Zurabishvili said, adding that she specifically decided to hold the inauguration ceremony in Telavi – a city in which she lost the election.
“I respect those who did not vote for me,” she stressed.
She also thanked the Georgian Dream party for its support provided during the elections:
“I am grateful to Georgian Dream which supported me, an independent presidential candidate. A democratic step has been taken.”
The main aim – Europe
Zurabishvili says the main goal of her presidency will be to make the European future of Georgia irreversible.
“The new constitution reflects the will of the Georgian people – Georgia’s aspirations into the European Union and NATO. With the help of our friends from the USA and Europe, I will do everything possible to ensure this process. I will use all my experience, all my contacts in international organizations and the European Union,” she said.
Zurabishvili mentioned her predecessors and stated that each of them had put “their own brick” in the construction of a democratic Georgia.
“Zviad Gamsakhurdia played a huge role by calling for a referendum and passed an act on the restoration of Georgia’s independence. Eduard Shevardnadze took the first steps towards Europe and the Euro-Atlantic space. At the beginning of his reign, Mikheil Saakashvili carried out many important reforms. During the presidency of Giorgi Margvelashvili, significant steps were taken to strengthen the democratic processes and strengthen stability,” she said.
“I will be the guarantor of the rule of law.”
Salome Zurabishvili promised to be the guarantor of human rights and freedoms of all citizens, in addition to the rule of law and will work to strengthen civil society and increase political culture.
“I know that different parties have different positions, in particular, on the issue of the recognition of my presidency. From today, I take responsibility within the framework defined by the Constitution to be the president for all citizens of Georgia. This is the main principle of democracy,” Zurabishvili stressed.
“Russia is an occupant.”
Zurabishvili noted that Georgia faces an enormous challenge when it comes to resolving the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflict. Both regions are occupied by Russia.
“There is an occupation line that cuts deep into the territory of Georgia, where our citizens are abducted. This is unacceptable for a sovereign state. We will not accept this!”
An appeal to the Abkhaz and Ossetians
“I greet all of Georgia, our Abkhaz and Ossetian brothers!” Zurabishvili said at the beginning of her speech.
“We must remember that people, our citizens, live in the occupied territories, and we must reconcile with them. We are united by the path already traveled with the Abkhaz and Ossetians, we are relatives, there are many mixed families! We must find approaches to the new generation, show the way to Europe. Today, more than ever, the Abkhaz language and identity must be protected!”
Foreign delegations at the inauguration were subject to particular criticism.
Only one current president was present: Armenian President Armen Sarkisian. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was also in attendance.
The USA sent a USAID representative.
From neighboring countries: the Turkish Republic was represented by the vice-president, and Azerbaijan by its parliamentary speaker. Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan sent Deputy Foreign Ministers, while Belarus sent the deputy chairman of the National Assembly. Moldova’s deputy PM was in attendance, while Turkmenistan was represented by its minister of trade.
The Baltic States and Eastern Europe were represented by the Speaker of the National Assembly of Serbia, the President of the Senate of the Czech Republic, the Speaker of the Seimas of Lithuania, the Head of the Presidential Office of Poland, the Vice Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, the Secretary General of GUAM, and the Extraordinary Envoy of the Vatican.
The Minister of Environment and Climate Change of the United Arab Emirates was also among the guests.