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Backgrounds: Georgia Political
After surviving assassination attempts in August 1995 and February 1998, then-President Shevardnadze consolidated his leadership and declared an ambitious reform agenda. Elections on November 5, 1995, described at the time as the freest and fairest in the Caucasus or Central Asia, gave him the presidency and resulted in a progressive parliament led by sophisticated reformers. Since 1998, however, the reform process has encountered serious obstacles and made limited progress.
The political status of the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is unresolved. Isolated outbreaks of violence continue to erupt in Abkhazia. About 300,000 people displaced by these conflicts have yet to return to home.
Renewed fighting in neighboring Chechnya (Russia) in late 1999 generated concerns that the conflict will spill over into Georgia. Several thousand Chechen refugees moved into Georgia's Pankisi Gorge in late 1999, adding to the refugee/internally displaced population. The Abkhaz separatist dispute also continues to absorb much of the government's attention. While a cease-fire is in effect, about 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were driven from their homes during the conflict constitute a vocal lobby. The government has offered the region considerable autonomy in order to encourage a settlement, which would allow the IDPs, the majority of whom are ethnic Georgians from the Gali region, to return home, but the Abkhaz insist on independence.
Currently, Russian peacekeepers, under the authority of the Commonwealth of Independent States, are stationed in Abkhazia, along with UN observers. Their activities are hampered by land mines and guerrilla activity. Years of negotiations have not resulted in movement toward a settlement. Working with France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Russia and through the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United States continues to encourage a comprehensive settlement consistent with Georgian independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The UNOMIG observer force and other organizations continue to encourage grassroots cooperative and confidence-building measures in the region.
The parliament has instituted wide-ranging political reforms supportive of higher human rights standards, including religious freedoms enshrined in the constitution. Problems persist, however, largely as a result of the unwillingness of law enforcement and criminal justice officials to support constitutionally mandated rights. Violence against religious minorities and mistreatment of pretrial detainees are significant and continuing problems, as is corruption.
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