Remarks by H.E. Mikheil Saakashvili At the charity dinner

A charity dinner this evening has raised a total of 230,000 lari which will be given to an orphanage. The president addressed business people at the dinner and spoke about the main economic achievements of 2006, although he also announced some important new economic initiatives. He said that Poti would be declared a free economic zone.

[Saakashvili] 2006 was a year of big upheavals. Their idea was to shake Georgia until it finally collapsed. They declared an energy blockade in the coldest days of winter and left our children without heating. We all remember that well. Our largest trading partner imposed a complete economic embargo, first on apples and citrus fruit and then on wine, Borjomi and other mineral waters. Then they completely closed off their market.

That was not enough so they then began the mass arrests of Georgians, hunted for Georgian children in schools and began discriminating against them and banned them from going to school.

Lots of statements were made and many millions were spent on international PR to try to portray Georgia as an unreliable, unstable country. There is a blockade on one of Georgia's borders but thanks to our geographic position a complete physical blockade is impossible for them so they tried to impose a virtual blockade by telling everyone not to invest money here, that there will soon be war and chaos, that Georgia is not a country that should be invested in.

More than once they tried to destroy the political situation with dirty politics and terrorist methods. They staged numerous acts of provocation against us, including in Upper Abkhazia, the Kodori Gorge. The criminal underworld attempted to make a comeback. You remember the famous prison riots and for probably the first time in world history the criminal underworld staged street protests. Unfortunately they were helped by some of the media and some politicians in trying to return criminal chaos to Georgia.

Their final punishment against us this year, at the end of the year, was to increase energy prices. We have huge challenges ahead of us, of course, but there is no reason why we should not overcome these challenges.

Our main resource in Georgia is not oil or gas. It is our ability to create a good economic climate for business. We should also focus on that. We now have the least corrupt business environment, we have stability and peace, but we still need to take special measures. Therefore in 2007 we will start work on creating a large free economic zone around Poti and it will be the most important free economic zone on the Black Sea.

This is not the kind of free economic zone that [deposed Ajarian leader] Aslan Abashidze, the devil, planned on creating in Ajaria. It will not be some kind of feudal zone. These zones only work where there is a strong state and a high level of law enforcement, not the lawlessness there was in Ajaria in those days, which he wanted to turn into a black hole. It will not just be an economic zone for Poti. It will serve the whole of Samegrelo, Guria, Ajaria and the rest of Georgia. We will do this to a very high standard. It will be a place where businesses will be able to register in 15 minutes, where disputes will be resolved in a couple of hours, where the law will be enforced immediately, where bureaucracy will be close to zero and where exporters and manufacturers will have ideal conditions. I think this need to be done. The new transport infrastructure will be linked to this - the new motorways, the new Kars-Akhalkalaki railway, the new airports that we are building, and not just in Tbilisi and Batumi. We have serious plans for Kutaisi airport, Kopitnari, and we are having talks with several very major investors on this.

Translated by BBC Monitoring

Communications Office
of the President of Georgia

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