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Tens of thousands march in Georgia 'for Europe' after blow to EU bid

By AFP - Jun 20,2022 - Last updated at Jun 20,2022

TBILISI — Tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets on Monday in support of the country's membership to the European Union, days after the European Commission recommended deferring Tbilisi's candidacy.

EU leaders are expected to decide by Friday on granting candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, which applied for EU membership shortly after Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Waving Georgian and EU flags, an estimated 60,000 demonstrators gathered outside Georgian parliament on Monday evening for the "March for Europe".

The demonstration was initiated by the Black Sea nation's leading pro-democracy groups and supported by all of the opposition parties to "demonstrate the commitment of the Georgian people to its European choice and Western values".

"Europe is a historical choice and an aspiration of Georgians, for which all generations have given sacrifices," the rally organisers said on Facebook.

"Freedom, peace, economic sustainability, protection of human rights and justice are the values that unite us all, which would be guaranteed by integration into the European Union."

Ahead of the rally, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, said in a televised address: "I want to salute all those who plan to gather today for the demonstration."

"We must mobilise on this historical day for our country. Our message is that want a European Georgia."


'European perspective' 


On Friday, the European Commission recommended that the European Council grant candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau, but said it will "come back [by the end of 2022] and assess how Georgia meets the number of conditions before granting its candidate status".

The Commission also recommended granting Georgia "the European perspective," something its chief Ursula von der Leyen called a "huge step forward" on Georgia's path toward membership.

"The door is wide open," she said, adding: "The sooner you deliver, the sooner there will be progress."

Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream Party said at the time it “regretted” that the country was not recommended as a candidate together with Ukraine and Moldova, saying that “by all the measurable parameters [of compliance with EU standards] Georgia is ahead of both Ukraine and Moldova”.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Friday, hailed “the historic decision to grant Georgia European perspective”.

“We will be working with Brussels to implement all the requirements and will get a candidate’s status.”

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

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed association agreements with the EU designed to bring them closer together economically and politically.

The agreements also include free trade deals between the countries and the EU as well as visa-free travel for its nationals for a short stay in the Schengen area.

But they give no guarantee of eventual membership.


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