President Saakashvili calls for

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili chaired today's meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers at the State Chancellery. He opened the meeting by remembering the late Pokro Gakharia, one of a number of Georgian servicemen who fought in the anti-Nazi uprising on the Dutch island of Texel in World War II, who died this week.

The Georgian president and government members observed a minute of silence to honour Gakharia and the other participants of the Texel uprising. Saakashvili noted that the event was of great significance in European history.

"Several hundred armed Georgian fighters disarmed a German garrison and for several months heroically resisted fascist forces. The Georgians fought especially hard and I want to emphasize that they were carrying out a very important mission. However, I must add that their contribution has not been sufficiently appreciated. Many of them were detained and resettled and they endured repressions throughout their lives. Were it not for author Rezo Tabukashvili, Texel would remain a forgotten episode in Georgia's history. We must not forget that, as Georgia is a country of heroes," Saakashvili said.

At the meeting President Saakashvili and Finance Minister Aleksi Aleksishvili pointed out that Georgia had earned its ranking as number one reformer country in the world and drew attention to the economic success the country has achieved over the past three years. This statement comes after the Fitch Ratings Agency awarded Georgia's investment climate a rating of BB-, an improvement over last year's B+. Saakashvili said the increased investment in the country would greatly improve the living conditions of the Georgian population. He added that even the Russians had acknowledged Georgia's success.

"Georgia lost its main business partner and it is in such conditions that we have managed to create a business climate like no other in the region. We are fighting corruption despite the fact that many people are angered by this fight. This is our main resource within the country. We have managed to attain higher international investment ratings. This means that interest rates on bank loans will decrease and that more loans will be issued. Through loans, the people will better manage to buy homes and tractors and develop agriculture and open processing plants and more money will be invested in infrastructure.

"All of this will be of great economic importance. The main thing is that we manage to accelerate economic growth as a result of implementing these measures and keep inflation under control. The main thing is our country's success. In this case the 'minus' is a great plus for us. I want to congratulate you on our economic success," Saakashvili said.

The president then discussed plans for determining the status of South Ossetia within the Georgian state, telling government members that the country's leadership needed to take a "cautious but bold" approach to the issue. He said Georgia must be "proactive" and "work night and day" towards the resolution of the conflict and hold "serious negotiations" with Georgian-backed leader Dmitriy Sanakoyev. He instructed the media and government officials to avoid using the terms "Ossetian side" and "Georgian side" when speaking about the conflict, as the separatist government consists of personnel "brought in" from outside. He also stressed the importance of expanding higher education opportunities for the country's ethnic Armenian and Azeri populations and said that the Georgian government's lack of organization was to blame for the fact that few of them know the state language.

"Yesterday Mr Petre [Tsiskarishvili, agriculture minister] made a statement on South Ossetia's status together with the head of the [Georgian-backed] temporary administrative unit [Dmitriy Sanakoyev]. I want to say that there will be serious negotiations. This is not a formality. Our partners on the other side of the negotiating table are not people with whom we should take a frivolous approach. They are serious people, serious leaders, serious representatives of a part of Georgia's population - a big part of ethnic Ossetians - and we must hold serious talks and discuss serious issues with them. We must approach this issue cautiously, but at the same time boldly. I believe that we have the opportunity to truly restore contacts among all villages, all communities and all people, as well as between the Georgian state and a very important and dear part of its population.

"Yesterday tractors were taken there on my order. We distributed them to villages which are under Georgian control. I want to emphasize that there are not Georgian villages and Ossetian villages. There is no such thing as the Ossetian side or the Georgian side and everyone should purge these terms from their vocabulary. If only television stations were making this mistake, that would not be a problem. But some government members also get it wrong and speak of Georgian and Ossetian villages. I want to tell you that a large part of the population of the villages which fall under our jurisdiction is ethnically mixed. This means nothing. For us they are all equal.

"And if there is such a thing as an Ossetian side, that side is the temporary administration, which consists of representatives of the local population. Ethnic Ossetians are far less represented in that which some people ignorantly refer to as the Ossetian side. You know very well where these people have been brought in from and what connections they have with the local population. Some of them may have Ossetian surnames, but those people have nothing whatsoever to do with Ossetians or the Ossetian people, let alone South Ossetia.

"Therefore, we must continue with our programmes. We are building several cultural facilities there. According to what I've been told, all schools there are being repaired well. We must further facilitate the development of education, including through such programmes that seek to restore trust between peoples, settle the conflicts and overcome crises.

"I also welcome the fact that we will soon begin bringing 100 representatives of various ethnic groups each from Akhalkalaki [town in the predominately ethnic Armenian Javakheti region] and [the predominately ethnic Azeri-populated] Kvemo Kartli [Province] and place them in [university] preparatory courses. It is very important that our citizens not go to other countries to study, but instead come to Georgia's capital and its other cities.

"It is very important that their relatively poor knowledge of the Georgian language at this stage, which is not their fault-[changes tack] I want to emphasize that that has nothing to do with them, they are begging us to teach them the language. It is instead because of the fact that up to now we have not been well organized. Under no circumstances should a relatively poor knowledge of Georgian be an insurmountable obstacle for those people to study in institutes of higher education. There are preparatory courses, technologies, and countless other means to integrate those people and bring them here.

"Returning to South Ossetia, we have created a special group at the Chancellery that is working on the negotiating process and on joint actions with Sanakoyev's administration. I ask that all of you work with this group and I also ask that we take into account the fact that there is a certain timeframe here - we all must work day and night and we all must work in such a way that each and every person sees the difference.

"There is now a battle on to win over people's hearts and moods. This battle is between much richer, but not very flexible mechanisms which truly do not understand local problems [as heard], and the Georgian state - Georgia, which is a state consisting of Georgians, Ossetians, Armenians, Azeris and people of all other ethnic origins, who for us are all part of the Georgian state and who are our most dear citizens.

"In general, I believe that the process of resolving the conflicts must become much more intensive and much more active and that the world community should become much more involved in it than it is today. The Georgian government needs to be much more proactive. We have achieved success locally, throughout the Tskhinvali region[South Ossetia], but I think this should extend to the whole of Georgia's territory and to all conflicts and all situations. There is still a lot of work to do here and there are a lot of problems despite the fact that many professionals are involved in this endeavour.

"We must not be in a position where we are reacting, we must be very proactive and alert. Once again I ask you to cooperate actively with this group working on Tskhinvali issues. We need daily coordination and we need to resolve issues on a daily basis. We have a budget and we have taken the decision to finance many programmes. Practically everything that is necessary will be funded by Georgia at an appropriate level. Relevant decisions have been taken," President Saakashvili said.

press Office
of the President of Georgia

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