Georgia's Prime Minister Resigns after Mass Protests

W460

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced his resignation Wednesday after a series of mass protests highlighted a dramatic drop in his government's popularity.

In a televised speech, Kvirikashvili cited "a number of fundamental disagreements with the chairman of the (ruling Georgian Dream) party," billionaire tycoon and former premier Bidzina Ivanishvili, as a reason for his decision.

Kvirikashvili's move, after two and a half years in power, comes amid growing popular discontent over his government's handling of the economy and after mass protests in recent months.

On June 1, thousands of people took to the streets of Tbilisi over allegations of political influence in a murder trial, demanding Kvirikashvili's resignation.

A mass strike of Tbilisi subway workers followed, virtually paralyzing public transport in the city of 1.2 million people.

In May, thousands rallied in the capital in protest at allegedly heavy-handed police raids on two popular nightclubs and the government's harsh anti-drug policy.

The demonstrators also demanded the resignation of Kvirikashvili and Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

A former banker, Kvirikashvili, 50, became prime minister in December 2015.

According to the Georgian constitution, a prime minister's resignation leads to the resignation of the entire cabinet.

The ruling party then has seven days to nominate a new prime minister who will be appointed by the country's largely figurehead president.

- The man in charge -

Analysts said that Kvirikashvili's demise was the result of a power struggle within the ruling party.

"Kvirikashvili's resignation is a logical consequence of the growing popular discontent over his performance that has recently culminated in mass street protests," political analyst Gela Vasadze told AFP.

"But primarily it shows that an internal power struggle within the Georgian Dream has entered a hot phase -- Bidzina Ivanishvili has again demonstrated who is calling the shots in Georgia," he added.

Georgia's richest man Ivanishvili stepped down as premier in 2013 after just a year in office but since then he has been widely believed to be the man in charge in the tiny Black Sea nation.

He made a political comeback in May, assuming chairmanship of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Georgian Dream came to power in 2012, ending a decade-long dominance of the pro-Western former president Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement and also won parliamentary elections in 2016.

- Scandals and poverty -

Kvirikashvili's cabinet has been implicated in a number of high-profile scandals involving Georgia's law enforcement agencies, such as what international rights groups have claimed was Georgia's complicity in the abduction in Tbilisi of an opposition Azerbaijani journalist and his handover to his country's authoritarian government in January.

At Wednesday's press conference Kvirikashvili said he has disagreed with his party's leadership over economic policy matters and boasted of "Georgia's economic growth rate which is fastest in the region."

But a recent survey from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) showed that 22.5 percent of Georgian households lived below the poverty line last year, compared with 20.7 percent in 2016.

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