Five European Union foreign ministers are in Georgia to oversee the build-up to its October 1st parliamentary election, amid international concern over rising political tension in the country. The EU, US and leading democracy watchdogs have called on the country to ensure free and fair conduct of the election, in which the ruling party of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili faces a strident challenge from supporters of the country’s richest man. Billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili accuses Mr Saakashvili’s allies of using dirty tricks to undermine his newly formed Georgian Dream party, complaining that he has been stripped of his Georgian passport and fined millions of euro since entering politics.
He also claims that his party’s activists have been harassed, beaten and arrested by Saakashvili loyalists. Opponents deny the claims, and accuse Mr Ivanishvili of breaking electoral law, using his wealth to “buy” power and even of acting in the interests of neighbouring Russia. “We are not here to support any political force, but to see Georgia’s progress on its path towards Nato and the European Union,” said Lithuanian foreign minister Audronius Azubalis, who is in Tbilisi with his Latvian, Czech, Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts.