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Georgians to stage pro-EU rally after candidacy deferred

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TBILISI (AFP) – Georgians are set to stage a fresh rally on Friday (June 24) in favour of joining the EU after the bloc failed to grant it candidate status, demanding widespread reforms.

Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova, days after Russia launched an all-out war on Ukraine.

On Thursday, EU leaders granted formal candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau but said Tbilisi could only become an official candidate once outstanding issues are addressed.

They have, however “recognised Georgia’s European perspective”, in a move which President Salome Zurabishvili hailed as a “historic”.

“We are ready to work with determination over the next months to reach the candidate status,” Mr Zurabishvili said on Thursday.

Georgia’s leading pro-democracy groups and opposition forces announced a mass rally on Friday evening, mounting pressure on the ruling Georgian Dream party, which is accused of damaging ties with Brussels.

“Whatever promises the Georgian government makes, we do not believe it would respect its own words,” rally organisers said on Facebook.

“We, the Georgian people, must assume responsibility for implementing the required reforms. The Georgian people have to defend their European choice.”

In a statement issued on Friday, Georgian Dream defended its democratic record and accused the opposition of “plans to overthrow the authorities by organising anti-government rallies”.

In what was the biggest demonstration in decades, at least 120,000 Georgians took to the streets on Monday in support of the country’s EU membership bid.

The rally organisers announced at the time the launch of a “new popular movement” that will include opposition parties but will be dominated by civil activists.

The deferral of Georgia’s candidacy had been a foregone conclusion after the European Commission said last week that Tbilisi must implement sweeping political reforms by the end of 2022 before it is put on a formal membership path.

The EU conditions for granting Georgia candidate status include ending political polarisation, progress on media freedom, judiciary and electoral reforms as well as “de-oligarchisation”.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling on the EU to impose personal sanctions against Georgia’s richest man Bidzina Ivanishvili for his “destructive role” in Georgia’s politics and economy.

Mr Ivanishvili insists he has retired from politics.

The Georgian Dream government has faced mounting international criticism over perceived backsliding on democracy, seriously damaging Tbilisi’s ties with Brussels.

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