Georgia moves to impeach president who defied foreign trips ban

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Georgia’s ruling party began moves to impeach President Salome Zourabichvili after she defied a government attempt to ban her from making state visits abroad, including ones she said were aimed at lobbying for the country to gain European Union membership.

The Georgian Dream party announced it would seek to oust Zourabichvili as she was meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Friday. The trip was part of a series of official visits to countries including Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the United Arab Emirates and Israel by the end of the year.

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The extraordinary confrontation is the latest clash between the Caucasus republic’s first woman president, who was elected with support from Georgian Dream, and the ruling party backed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s richest man. French-born Zourabichvili, who was elected to the largely ceremonial position in 2018, has been increasingly at odds with the government, including over support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

She called the visit to Germany the start of “meetings with European leaders in support of granting Georgia the status of candidate country for EU membership” in a website statement.

That prompted the government in Tbilisi to retaliate with a statement announcing she’d been refused permission to make any of the announced state visits, adding “the president of Georgia exercises representative powers in foreign relations only with consent of the government under the constitution.”

Georgian Dream’s chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, announced the impeachment proceedings, saying her decision to travel without the government’s consent undermined its efforts to gain support for EU candidate status. “The Constitution of Georgia provides for the only effective legal mechanism to respond to its violation – impeachment,” he said.

Under the rules, impeachment requires the support of 100 members of parliament to be successful, Kobakhidze said. Since that’s unlikely without the support of some opposition members, Georgian Dream would first send a request to the Constitutional Court for a ruling that the president had breached the constitution, he said.

Georgia has sought membership of the EU and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as part of efforts to pull away from Russia’s orbit since the 2003 Rose Revolution. But it has fallen behind Ukraine and Moldova, which were both awarded EU candidate status last year, amid criticism in Brussels of the pace of changes in Georgia required for membership of the bloc.

Zourabichvili has been openly critical of the government for failing to support Ukraine in the war with Russia after Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he’d refuse to impose sanctions or provide military aid to Kyiv. He argues that critics of his policy are seeking to “create a second front” in Georgia, where Russian forces occupy a fifth of the country following a 2008 war over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

She sided with protesters in March against a government attempt to pass a “foreign agents law” that critics described as similar to one President Vladimir Putin used to crush dissent in Russia. The government backed down after violent clashes between police and protesters in Tbilisi over the draft law that was also condemned by the US and the EU.

The president also condemned as a “provocation” Putin’s restoration of air travel links between Russia and Georgia in May that Garibashvili and other government ministers welcomed.

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