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Georgia votes in second round of presidential election



Georgians on Wednesday voted in the second round of a presidential election seen as a crucial test for the increasingly unpopular ruling party and watched closely by Russia and the West.

The new head of state will be a largely ceremonial figure, but the vote is seen as a trial run for the contest between billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition in vital parliamentary polls set for 2020.

In the first round on October 28, former foreign minister and ambassador to France Salome Zurabishvili failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote despite being backed by Georgia Dream. She gained 39 percent, forcing a second round.

Opposition leader Grigol Vashadze, backed by an alliance led by former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party, won 38 percent of the vote.

Vashadze was narrowly leading in opinion polls ahead of the second round, boosted by the endorsement of another opposition candidate who came third in the first round.

A win for Vashadze would drastically change the country’s political landscape, signalling a likely end to Georgian Dream’s six-year dominance.

Russia and the West watching
Western powers are closely watching the vote — a test for the democratic credentials of the Caucasus nation that seeks EU and NATO membership.

The opposition and rights groups have accused the government of planning to rig the vote in Zurabishvili’s favour.

“The outcome of the vote will determine not only who won the election, but also mark either progress or setback for Georgia’s young democracy,” political analyst Gela Vasadze told AFP.

Both candidates have promised to lead Georgia closer to the West, but analysts said they have different approaches in pursuing the goal.

“Both candidates have similar foreign policy priorities,” analyst Vasadze said.

“But their records as ex-foreign ministers show that Vashadze is more closely associated with Washington, while former ambassador to France Zurabishvili is clearly more EU-orientated.”

Vashadze’s election would also likely irritate Russia, which fought a war with Georgia during the presidency of his ally Saakashvili.

“For the Kremlin, a UNM candidate’s win is like a red rag for a bull and may lead to increased tensions between the two countries,” said analyst Gia Nodia.

“Georgian Dream adopts a more tempered stance in its relations with Moscow, while UNM is traditionally more outspoken in its criticism of (Russian President’s Vladimir) Putin’s conduct in the post-Soviet space,” he added.

Analyst Vasadze said that the “success of Georgia’s democratic experiment will deal a blow to Putin”.

“If it is possible in Russia’s ‘backyard’ to change power through the ballot box, why is the same unimaginable in modern Russia? –- that is the question Putin does not want to hear from his citizens.”

Raising tensions
Tensions have increased after the opposition accused the government of voter intimidation and claimed that ruling party activists had attacked members of Vashadze’s campaign staff.

Zurabishvili said she and her children received death threats through text and voice messages from people affiliated with the UNM.

Rights groups, meanwhile, accused government officials of vote buying on a “widespread” and “unprecedented” scale.

The Georgian Prosecutor General’s office said it launched an investigation into the allegations that were flatly rejected by Georgian Dream leaders.

Vashadze, a career diplomat, has criticised Ivanishvili’s “informal oligarch rule” amid growing discontent over the government’s failure to tackle poverty.

Georgia’s richest man, Ivanishvili, stepped down as premier in 2013 after a year in office but is still seen as the country’s de facto ruler.

The vote is Georgia’s last direct leadership poll as it transitions to a parliamentary form of governance.

More than 3.5 million people are eligible to vote in the election, which will be monitored by international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Polls opened at 0400 GMT and will close at 1600 GMT, with results expected to start being released overnight.


Foreign News

Sri Lankan President Thanks Seychelles Defence Forces For Rescuing Sri Lankan Vessel From Somali Pirates



President Ramkalawan says Seychellois military boarded boat with utmost courage to take complete control

 The Seychelles Defence Forces (SDF) Special Forces and Seychelles Coast Guards on board Coast Guards vessel Topaz led a successful operation to regain control of a Sri Lankan vessel hijacked by armed Somali pirates.

Seychellois special military forces boarded the boat with utmost courage to take complete control of the vessel and rescue our Sri Lankan brothers.

The Commander in Chief of the Seychelles, President Wavel Ramkalawan has spoken to the Chief of Defence Forces, Brigadier Michael Rosette to congratulate the Special Forces and Coast Guards team on a well-executed and successful mission.

“This is the spirit of the Seychelles Defence Forces. Professionalism, courage, and bravery are the tenets of the new spirit in the force. Though small, we will make our contribution to attaining maritime security, peace, and determination in the fight against terrorism to ensure that the world, especially in our part of the Indian Ocean remains a safe and peaceful region. Once again, I reiterate the  pride and confidence of the Seychellois nation in the Seychelles Defence Forces.”

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GoG: Promoting Trans-boundary Management For Sustainable Socio-Economic Development



…Mission builds upon previous efforts by AU-IBAR in the beneficiary countries (Benin and Togo) for the national validation of the report on the State of the Transboundary Marine Environment (SoME)

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 23, 2024/ — From January 21st to 27th, 2024, AU-IBAR is on a mission in the republics of Benin and Togo. The mission is dedicated to supporting the implementation of a Transboundary Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) initiative between the two nations. Funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), under the project “Conservation of Aquatic Biodiversity within the Framework of the Africa Blue Economy Strategy,” this initiative holds the promise of fostering socio-economic development through the judicious use of marine resources.

Collaborative Efforts: AU-IBAR is collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) body, the Abidjan Convention, and the World Bank-funded West African Coastal Area Management (WACA) Project. The SIDA-funded project, implemented by AU-IBAR, involves an assessment to map the extent of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) usage in Africa as a management tool for the conservation of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems in the west, central, and northern regions of Africa.

Mission Objectives: This mission builds upon previous efforts by AU-IBAR in the beneficiary countries (Benin and Togo) for the national validation of the report on the State of Transboundary Marine Environment (SoME). The current objective is to secure joint expert validation of the SoME report and obtain high-level political endorsement for the provisions of the jointly validated report, demonstrating the commitment of both countries to the cause. Participants in the joint validation workshop include WACA project-nominated committee members from Benin and Togo, representatives from the Abidjan Convention, and government authorities from both nations, alongside relevant AU-IBAR staff.

Political Commitment: The opening statements during the joint meeting saw representatives from the Governments of Benin and Togo, the Executive Secretary of the Abidjan Convention, and the representative of the Director of AU-IBAR express unwavering commitment to the transboundary marine management process. Both the Director of AU-IBAR and the Executive Secretary of the Abidjan Convention reiterated their support for the Governments of Benin and Togo in realizing their shared vision for the sustainable management of coastal and marine resources in the designated shared maritime boundary.

Key Outcomes: The pinnacle achievement of the joint meeting is the validation of the study report on the state of the marine environment between Benin and Togo. This validation marks a significant milestone towards establishing the transboundary MSP between the two countries. AU-IBAR Director, DR Huyam Salih, emphasized that this accomplishment is a crucial step forward in enhancing aquatic biodiversity conservation and environmental protection in the Gulf of Guinea.

Conclusion: The joint expert consultation workshop serves as a testament to the collaborative efforts aimed at promoting transboundary management of shared marine aquatic ecosystems in the Gulf of Guinea. The validated report and political commitment from Benin and Togo are integral to realizing the socio-economic development potential inherent in the sustainable use of marine resources. As AU-IBAR continues its mission, the hope is that this initiative will serve as a model for other regions seeking to harmonize efforts for the conservation and management of their shared marine ecosystems.
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U.S.-British Strikes In Yemen Left 5 Dead, Say Houthi Rebels



The U.S. and British military strikes in Yemen have left five Houthi fighters dead and six others injured, the Iran-aligned rebels said on Friday, vowing retaliation.

“The American and British enemy bears full responsibility for its criminal aggression,’’ the Houthi military spokesman Yehya Saree said in a statement.

Saree said the massive attack had targeted several Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen including the capital Sana’a.

“It will not pass unanswered and without punishment.

“The Yemeni Armed Forces will not hesitate to target sources of threat and all hostile targets on the ground and in the sea,’’ he said. 

  • dpa
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