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Protesters line streets of Tbilisi to greet US Secretary of State Pompeo  

18 November 2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fist bumps with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia. Photo via Giorgi Gakharia.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has concluded a one-day visit to Tbilisi, where he met with government officials, civil society, and the Patriarch.

Opposition groups said they were welcoming the US Secretary of State with a ‘silent protest’ over the disputed results of Georgia’s parliamentary elections, reiterating that they intended to boycott runoff elections for 17 majoritarian seats slated for Saturday.

Thousands of protesters lined the streets of central Tbilisi during Pompeo’s visit to draw attention to the disputed elections.

Activists hung a large banner over the Peace Bridge in Tbilisi, under which they expected Mike Pompeo to pass. The banner read ‘Election rigged by Russian oligarch’, referring to Georgian Dream chair Bidzina Ivanishvili. 

Protesters lined Rustaveli Avenue with signs critical of Bidzina Ivanishvili and the election results. Photo: Tamuna Chkareuli/OC Media.
A protester waves a US flag. Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Despite the political standoff continuing between the opposition and the government, America’s top diplomat did not meet any opposition leaders. 

Diplomatic efforts spearheaded by US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan to mediate between the ruling Georgian Dream Party and the opposition have not yet yielded results. A third round of negotiations is expected after Pompeo’s visit. 

On Tuesday, David Kramer, a former US Assistant Secretary of State under George W Bush, and former US Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly criticised Pompeo for ignoring opposition leaders in Tbilisi.

Over 20 opposition groups published a joint address to Pompeo reiterating their concern over the ‘falsification of elections, the politicisation of the judiciary and political prisoners, persecution of government critics, and a hindrance to western investments’.

‘The free world must be vigilant about these signs of democratic regression in Georgia’, the statement read.

The statement was not signed by the opposition Alliance of Patriots or Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement parties,  known for their opposition to Georgia’s NATO ambitions. 

Pompeo speaks of ‘clan’ in the judiciary

During the visit on Wednesday, Pompeo met President Salome Zurabishvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, and Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani.

All three were quick to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on winning the US election on 3 November, a result Pompeo has refused to concede.

Days before his diplomatic tour, Pompeo angered critics by suggesting there would be a ‘smooth transition to a second Trump administration’ instead. 

According to the US Embassy to Georgia, Pompeo ‘emphasised the importance of electoral and judicial reforms’ in Georgia during his meeting with PM Giorgi Gakharia.

The US Embassy said that in his meeting with President Zurabishvili, Pompeo ‘reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity’.

He also held a 30-minute meeting with local civil society groups including the American Chamber of Commerce, George Soros’ Open Society Georgia Foundation, and Transparency International Georgia.

According to several of the Georgian participants of the meeting, discussions focussed on the government’s influence over the courts, ‘informal rule’ by Bidzina Ivanishvili, and the aborted Anaklia Port project.

While hosting then Georgian PM Mamuka Bakhtadze in Washington last year, Pompeo expressed the US government's support for the troubled Anaklia port project ‘hoping’ it would be completed.

Gia Gvilava from Transparency International Georgia told journalists after the meeting that Pompeo himself mentioned a ‘clan inside the judiciary’ during the discussion.

In his meeting with Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, ‘the promotion and protection of religious freedom around the world’ was reportedly discussed.

No press conference was held for journalists during the visit. 

After Georgia, Pompeo plans to meet leaders in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. 

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker will remain in Tbilisi for some days.

Turkey’s ‘aggressive’ actions

Pompeo’s visit to the region came just eight days after a Russian-brokered ceasefire came into force in Nagorno-Karabakh, ending 44 days of fierce fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

Three previous ceasefires, including one brokered by Pompeo himself in Washington, collapsed immediately on coming into force.

The war has left thousands dead and many more injured and displaced. Photo: OC Media.

On Tuesday evening, Pompeo announced that the US would provide aid to those affected by the conflict and urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to ‘re-engage with the  Minsk Group Co-Chairs for a lasting solution’.

Despite the US being one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group, which was set up to mediate the conflict following the first Nagorno-Karabakh War, Pompeo will not visit either Armenia or Azerbaijan during his trip.

During his visit to Paris, Pompeo told French paper Le Figaro that he had discussed the conflict with French President Emmanuel Macron, criticising Turkey’s role in supporting Azerbaijan.

‘France’s president Emmanuel Macron and I agree that Turkey’s recent actions have been very aggressive’, Pompeo said. 

‘Europe and the US must work together to convince [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] such actions are not in the interest of his people.’ 

Following his visit to France, Pompeo met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, in Istanbul, where they reportedly discussed religious freedom.

US diplomats told journalists that they had sought to arrange meetings with Turkish officials but that ‘scheduling issues’ had prevented this from happening.

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