Georgian Prime Minister resigned on Wednesday after two years in the office, just a year before an upcoming parliamentary election. In a televised address to the nation, Irakli Garibashvili gave no specific reason for the decision, saying the prime minister’s position was never an end in itself, but an opportunity to serve the country and people. He also emphasized that his government returned freedom and dignity to citizens, laid foundation for economic and social welfare by large scale reforms and governmental programs, and called Association Agreement with the European Union, launching a free trade zone and an EU accord on visa-free travel historical results. However, the opposition linked Garibashvili decision to declined popularity of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, which decreased to 18% support according to a recent opinion poll commissioned by the NDI. The party’s popularity has steadily fallen due to voters’ disappointment with worsening economic situation. Georgian media speculated that the Premier resigned to focus his energy on the campaign for upcoming elections next November.
Irakli Garibashvili, 33, was politically unknown before Bidzina Ivanishvili, former prime minister and billionaire named him interior minister in 2012. Before this, he worked with Ivanishvili for eight years. In November 2013, he became the youngest head of government in Europe when he was appointed as prime minister. Under Georgian law, President Giorgi Margvelashvili has seven days to name a candidate for the prime minister’s post which has to be approved by the parliament. The candidate then names the Cabinet Ministers within seven days and presents to the parliament for confirmation. Until then the power of Cabinet Ministers is automatically suspended. The Georgian Dream coalition has the majority in the parliament, so the process is expected to go smoothly.
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- According to Russian media reports, the Russian government has completed delivery of S-300 air defense system to Kazakhstan. The delivery serves the initiative between Moscow and Astana to construct a common aerospace defense system. As the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the ministry has approved the 2016 plan of work of the Defense Minister’s Council of the CIS countries and a plan of common steps on joint air defense system. The S-300 defense system was developed during the Soviet Union and is now in use by Russia as a surface-to-air defense system against airborne threats. Russia also agreed to delivery the S-300 missiles to Iran by the end of 2016.
- Tensions are rising between Iran and the U.S. over the new American law that limits visa-free travel to those who have visited Iran in the past five years or hold Iranian citizenship. The same applies to citizens or visitors to Syria, Iraq or Sudan. The law is voiced as an antiterrorism response to attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California and is primarily directed against Islamic State supporters and the extremist Sunni group. Iran however, is a Shiite country opposing Sunni fundamentalist groups. The Iranian foreign minister criticized the law regarding it as a sanction and an attempt to sabotage the nuclear accord. Iranian officials say it is nonsensical to include Iran in the new visa law.
- Right groups accuse the Kazakhstan government for suppressing free speech on internet along with increasing discontent with falling oil prices. Several political activists have been charged over their posts on Facebook and online media criticizing the government. At least four people already faced criminal investigations accused of inciting national discord in accordance with new regulations. The regulations now sparked fears that some of the most popular websites may be soon inaccessible. Kazakhstan has previously been liberal towards internet, but along with falling oil prices as well as preparation for elections the attitude has changed. The fear of restriction stems from an announcement by the government-owned Kazakhtelecom saying that from January 1 Kazakh internet users would need to install a national security certificate to access foreign websites, including Google and Facebook.
- Russia is arming Kyrgyzstan’s military to fight the Islamic State group and other threats in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu said Kyrgyz armed forces are being prepared to counter threats coming from Afghanistan. However, Kyrgyzstan lies to the Northeast of Afghanistan and is separated from Afghanistan by the country of Tajikistan, so it is quite far away from the main region of ISIS operation.
- Tajikistan restricted Christmas and New Year’s celebrations by banning Christmas trees and gift giving in schools. The country has been toning down Christmas in the last years as well banning Father Frost from television in 2013, but this year’s restrictions are the toughest. The education ministry issued a decree prohibiting the use of fireworks, festive meals, gift-giving and raising money as well as installation of Christmas trees at schools and universities. Other holidays perceived as alien to Tajikistan’s culture and Islamic religion has also been under pressure in the past years including Halloween celebrations.
- Oxus Gold PLC lost an arbitration case against Uzbekistan. The dispute dates back to 2011 and claimed compensation related to the loss of the Amantaytau Goldfields and Khaniza mining assets located in the Republic of Uzbekistan. The company referred to international arbitration in August 2013, asking for $400 million for damages from Uzbekistan government-backed companies that audited the Oxus. Oxus said the audit for set up to find reasons to justify liquidation of Amantaytau. The UNCITRAl international arbitration tribunal ruled against the company almost entirely except finding a breach of “fair and equitable” treatment standards that considers $10 million award for damages. Oxus is now in the process of analyzing the decision with the only option left is to go through the French courts as Paris is the sear of the arbitration.