Georgian PM Bakhtadze steps down, warns against political divisions

File photo. Prime Minister of Georgia Mamuka Bakhtadze speaks during the opening ceremony of the book fair 'Frankfurter Buchmesse 2018', in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 9 October 2018. [Armando Babani/EPA/EFE]

Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze announced his resignation on Monday (2 September) after little more than a year in the job and said the country must not be riven by political divisions that could play into Russia’s hands.

Bakhtadze’s resignation comes as the ruling Georgian Dream party’s popularity has sagged following the brutal dispersal of an anti-Kremlin protest in Tbilisi on 21 June. Parliamentary elections are due in October next year.

Georgian protesters slam 'Putinism', raise pressure on ruling oligarch

Several thousand anti-government protesters took to the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi for a fourth day on Sunday (24 June) as tensions rose between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbour.

Bakhtadze, 37, a former finance minister who became prime minister in June last year, used a lengthy post on Facebook announcing his resignation to warn against damaging divisions in the country.

“…we must always remember that the only one who will win from the polarization of Georgian society will be an occupying country,” he wrote.

Georgia fought and lost a short war with Russia in 2008, prompting the countries to cut diplomatic ties. Russia went on to recognize the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions where it now has troops garrisoned.

EU calls ‘unacceptable’ the tensions at Georgia occupation line

The ambassador of the EU to Georgia called “unacceptable” on Friday (30 August) the tensions and confrontational language at the “border” between Georgia and its occupied territory of South Ossetia.

Ties with Russia are therefore a politically divisive issue and a rally outside parliament this summer when a visiting Russian lawmaker addressed the chamber from the speaker’s chair, descended into violent clashes with police.

The opposition, which says the current pro-Western government is too soft on Moscow, said that police used excessive force. The government said police were right to use force as protesters were trying to storm parliament.

Bakhtadze’s warning also appeared a nod to divisions over domestic political issues such as media freedom and economic management.

The prime minister said he was stepping down because he had accomplished what he set out to do in the job.

“A strategic development framework has been created, implemented, and I have therefore decided to resign because I believe that I have fulfilled my mission at this stage,” Bakhtadze said.

The ruling party is due to nominate a new prime minister on Tuesday.

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