November 6, 2014 / 3:13 PM / 3 years ago

Georgian PM promises stability despite coalition defections

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia’s prime minister declared on Thursday the defection of one of the six parties in the ruling coalition would not destabilize his government which, he said, would still command a majority in parliament

Georgia's Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili speaks during a news briefing in Tbilisi, November 5, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

The Free Democrats’ departure on Wednesday, after the foreign minister quit over what she deemed threats to Georgia’s plans for Western integration, left the Georgian Dream coalition short of a parliamentary majority. But two Free Democrats stayed with the coalition and other independents might be relied on.

Repeating his commitment to pro-Western policies after decades in Moscow’s shadow, Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili said: “There is no threat of a crisis whatsoever.”

“We will have a strong majority in parliament and the government will continue to work - with more efficiency,” he told a cabinet meeting. “Nothing is happening and nothing will happen that may undermine stability.”

The tensions in the coalition highlight Georgia’s difficulties trying to pursue its goals of joining NATO and the European Union without former Soviet master, Moscow.

The turmoil has also alarmed the business community in the South Caucasus country of 4.5 million crossed by pipelines carrying Caspian oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.

Russia is an important trading partner but most business leaders support closer ties with the West, though such moves are viewed with suspicion by Russia which regards former Soviet republics as still within its sphere of influence.

Georgia fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008 and former Soviet Ukraine’s drive for closer integration with the West has also brought it into conflict with Moscow as it struggle with an uprising by pro-Russian rebels in its eastern territories.

“Businesses and investors need stability and of course the recent developments have undermined their perception of a politically stable Georgia,” Fady Asly, chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce in Georgia, told Reuters.

But he added: “If the current developments do stop where they are now without any further deterioration there will be little or no impact on the business environment.”

U.S. CONCERN

The Free Democrats’ decision was triggered by Garibashvili’s dismissal on Tuesday of Western-leaning Irakly Alasania, one of the party’s senior figures, as defense minister.

Alasania had complained that the arrests of several officials in his ministry were politically motivated and meant to undermine supporters of better relations with the West.

Foreign Minister Maya Panjikidze and a junior minister responsible for integration with the West resigned the next day.

“We are not afraid of adventurers like Alasania ... and we will of course easily overcome these absurd obstacles,” Garibashvili said.

The Free Democrats had 10 of the coalition’s 83 seats in the 150-seat assembly but two members decided to leave the faction on Thursday and stay in Georgian Dream.

“There are also independent MPs who are willing to cooperate with us. So, I don’t see any threat to the majority’s activity in the parliament,” Eka Beselia, a lawmaker from the coalition, told reporters.

In Washington, the State Department said it “noted with concern” Alasania’s dismissal and the ministers’ resignations. It urged the government to “dispel perceptions that the judicial system is being used for political purposes.”

Western countries have expressed concern that the Georgian Dream government, first formed under billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in 2012, has persecuted political opponents and used selective justice against them.

Dozens of ex-officials, including a former prime minister, defense and interior minister and the mayor of the capital Tbilisi, have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power and corruption since the coalition came to power.

Editing by Timothy Heritage; editing by Ralph Boulton

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