WASHINGTON – Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Ranking Minority Members Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KA), expressed “profound regret” over the recent violence in Georgia, when law enforcement troops attacked demonstrators in Tbilisi. They criticized the imposition of a state of emergency but commended President Mikheil Saakashvili’s call for early presidential elections in January 2008, as well as a referendum on the date of parliamentary elections.
“I read about the events in Georgia with great disappointment,” said Hastings. “Having been to Georgia many times, I was surprised and saddened by the violence which erupted. The state of emergency should be lifted as soon as possible. Freedom of expression must be honored and conditions created which will permit the holding of free and fair elections.”
Co-Chairman Cardin also voiced concern about the crackdown and the closure of TV stations, as well as U.S. Government-funded Radio Liberty broadcasts. “Shutting down independent sources of news is not the answer to Georgia’s problems. The country’s leadership and opposition must resolve their differences peacefully. The election and referendum called by President Saakashvili offers an opportunity to restore Georgia’s image.”
Ranking Minority Member Smith concurred, adding that he was puzzled by the decision to send troops against protesters when the demonstration appeared to be winding down. “I extend my sympathy to all those who were injured in the violence. Emergency rule and the closure of media outlets are not in line with Euro-Atlantic values. Georgia needs to ensure that the election and referendum in January meet the highest OSCE standards.”
Ranking Minority Member Brownback said he was dismayed by the violence but strongly supported Georgia’s ambitions to join NATO. “I hope these recent events will not derail Tbilisi’s membership bid. Russia, which resents Georgia’s pro-Western orientation, has been pressuring the country for years. We must continue to support Georgia’s progress towards democracy and integration into Western institutions.”
Chairman Hastings said he would be in touch with Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze, who has long maintained close relations with the Helsinki Commission and the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.