US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Georgia’s leaders Tuesday to strengthen their democracy by ensuring that upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections are “free and fair”. Clinton also reaffirmed US support for the territorial integrity of the former Soviet republic that is a strong US ally, calling on Russia to pull back its forces from Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. She delivered her message in meetings with Prime Minister Nika Gilauri and representatives of the country’s opposition parties after arriving late Monday from Armenia as part of her European tour.
President Mikhail Saakashvili is facing a strong political challenge from billionaire tycoon turned opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvilli, with parliamentary elections to be held in autumn and presidential polls next year. “We urge Georgia’s leaders to ensure it will be a competitive campaign and that elections are free and fair both on election day and in the weeks and months running up to it,” Clinton said. “The more difficult and ultimately the more important work may well be ahead — the work of building the habits and practices that sustain democracy over time,” she added ahead of a meeting with the pro-US, pro-NATO Saakashvili.
She said the United States “remains steadfast in our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” “We reject Russia’s occupation and militarisation of Georgia’s territory and we call upon Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire resolution including the withdrawal of its forces to pre-conflict positions, and free access for humanitarian assistance,” she said.