November 14, 2014 / 1:52 PM / 3 years ago

Georgian president challenges PM to affirm pro-Western course

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian President Georgy Margvelashvili has weighed into a row that has split the government by urging the prime minister of the ex-Soviet state to improve governance, re-commit to European integration and challenge Russia’s thinking.

Georgia's President Georgy Margvelashvili talks to servicemen from the Batumi separate infantry battalion of Georgian Armed Forces during a farewell ceremony at Vaziani military base outside Tbilisi, June 6, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili last week sparked the resignation of his foreign minister and the walkout of one of the six parties in his coalition by dismissing his pro-Western defense minister.

In a speech to parliament on Friday, Margvelashvili, whose relationship with Garibashvili is frosty, said the coalition crisis had exposed a “lack of institutional governance in the state”.

He said it was more necessary than at any time since the government was formed in 2012 to “reaffirm the irreversibility” of Georgia’s pro-Western course, and called for more “democratization and pluralism”.

Garibashvili signed an Association Agreement with the European Union in June and says he wants to align Georgia more closely with Western democracies.

But his opponents accuse him of using the justice system to persecute political opponents. And they say he is too reluctant to criticize Georgia’s former overlord Moscow, notably over its interventions in Ukraine - reminders of the war with Russia that Georgia blundered into in 2008, after which two breakaway provinces declared independence with Russian backing.

“You can’t serve two masters,” Margvelashvili said. “You cannot proclaim European goals and at the same time build a state in a completely different style.”

Russia also flatly opposes Georgia’s attempt, now largely stalled, to join the transatlantic NATO military alliance.

“We should change Russia’s conceptual paradigm about a privileged sphere of interest by our joint efforts, with international participation,” Margvelashvili said.

“The only response to Russia’s actions is our country’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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