Georgians march for EU ahead of candidacy decision

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Georgians march for EU ahead of candidacy decision

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili participates in a pro-European Union march in the capital Tbilisi on December 9, 2023, days before the bloc is expected to put the Black Sea nation on a formal membership path. — AFP pic

TBILISI, Dec 9 — Georgian non-governmental organisations staged a pro-European Union march in the capital Tbilisi today, a week ahead of the bloc’s decision on granting the country membership candidacy status.

EU leaders are set to discuss putting Tbilisi on a formal membership path and to launch accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova during a European Council meeting on December 14-15.

President Salome Zurabishvili joined the rally at Tbilisi’s Europe Square where demonstrators unfolded a 33-metre-long and 22-metre-wide EU flag, which organisers claimed to be the “largest in the world”.

She said she counted on EU leaders to grant her country candidate status, but also expressed concern over the position of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban.

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He has threatened to block key decisions concerning Ukraine at the upcoming EU summit — risking to impact Georgia’s chances of obtaining candidate status at the same time.

“It would be extremely serious if Orban -- under the influence of Russia — could force the European Union to go against decisions that lead toward a common European future, toward the shared freedom of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova in the European space,” Zurabishvili said.

EU chief Charles Michel met Orban on November 27 to ease tensions, while French President Emmanuel Macron hosted him in Paris on Thursday in a bid to break the deadlock over Ukraine.

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Georgians stage a pro-EU march in the capital Tbilisi on December 9, 2023, days before the bloc is expected to put the Black Sea nation on a formal membership path. — AFP pic

Georgians stage a pro-EU march in the capital Tbilisi on December 9, 2023, days before the bloc is expected to put the Black Sea nation on a formal membership path. — AFP pic

‘Hello Europe, goodbye Russia’

Beating drums, waving EU banners and Georgia’s five-cross flags, several hundred representatives of Georgian NGOs, marched on Saturday along Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare, Rustaveli Avenue.

“Georgians’ unity holds decisive importance on our path towards the EU,” the march organisers said in a statement. “We must once again demonstrate our unity and ensure our voice is heard.”

Demonstrators expressed optimism over Georgia’s chances to advance on its EU accession path, with some saying that would mark Georgia’s final rupture with Soviet-era master Russia.

“I’m sure we will get EU candidacy because we, Georgians, belong to Europe,” one of the rally participants, student Marika Gerliani, 20, told AFP.

Another demonstrator, 60-year-old mathematician Nika Tvauri, said: “It’s about Georgia returning home. Hello Europe, goodbye Russia.”

Georgia applied for EU membership alongside Ukraine and Moldova after Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbour in February 2022.

EU leaders have granted candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau but urged Tbilisi to first implement judicial and electoral reforms, improve press freedom and curtail the power of oligarchs.

In November, the European Commission recommended EU leaders to grant Tbilisi an official candidate status.

The recommendation came with a caveat that the Georgian government takes reform steps “that mirror the genuine aspirations of the overwhelming majority of its citizens to join the European Union”..

According to opinion polls, more than 80 percent of the population supports European Union and Nato membership, which are enshrined in Georgia’s constitution. — AFP

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