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Monday, October 28, 2013

New President of Georgia

Giorgi Margvelashvili bested David Bakradze in Georgia’s presidential elections yesterday, replacing the Rose revolutionary Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili was once acclaimed as a gregarious champion of democracy in the ex-Soviet Union, but a number of human rights violations by overly aggressive security services sapped his popularity in Georgia. By contrast, voter Bondo Pankvelashvili described Margvelashvili as “a normal person.” Suggesting high-profile politicians were a hindrance to proper governance, Pankvelashvili went on, “this is a problem with society. They are looking for a messiah and waiting for him to do something. Until we have a strong civil society, nothing will change. This is what we got from Soviet times.”

During last year’s parliamentary elections, Saakashvili’s United National Movement party was soundly routed by Georgian billionaire Bidzina ‘Boris’ Ivanishvili’s coalition-party Georgian Dream, effectively making Saakashvili a lame duck. Ivanishvili spent a scant year as Prime Minister, before stepping down earlier this month, citing his desire to continue influencing Georgian development as a private citizen. President-elect Margvelashvili was hand-picked by Ivanishvili and campaign had access to the same overwhelming funding that has seen a number of Saakashvili’s political allies ousted.

Trial Underway for Three Chinese Anti-Corruption Activists

The trial of anti-graft activists Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping, and Li Sihua, began in Xinyu, China today. All three were initially charged with subversion when they were arrested after posing with banners demanding political officials disclose their financial holdings, the charges have since changed to illegal assembly. Reuters reached one of Liu’s lawyers, Zhang Xuezhong by telephone from outside the court this morning. “All three are pleading not guilty,” Zhang announced adding he was not optimistic about the case given its sensitivity.

When President Xi Jinping took office in April, he announced that he would brook no corruption in his government and has since prosecuted a number of officials at all levels. Still, Xi’s administration has also launched a parallel vociferous crackdown on anti-corruption protestors, leading some to suggest Xi’s crackdown on corruption is subterfuge. “Liu, Wei, and Li are canaries in the coal mine for how the government intends to treat this influential group of anti-corruption activists,” said Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson, “anything short of acquittal will seriously undermine the credibility of the government’s claims to be cracking down on corruption.”

Sutay Freed by FARC

According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has released American citizen Kevin Scott Sutay to a delegation of NGO’s including the Red Cross. Sutay, a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, was kidnapped in mid-June as he backpacked through an area the FARC was known to control. The FARC initially suspected Sutay of being part of a covert American counterinsurgency operation, but quickly realized their error and offered to release him. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stymied the quick release, saying he would not allow a “media show” surrounding the release, and would only permit the Red Cross to receive Sutay. The FARC, which recently ceased kidnapping civilians, interviewed Sutay during the several months it took to arrange his release. In the interview, they describe him as “the gringo of folklore, a chewer of gum and smoker of marijuana, who, with a backpack on his back, blue jeans and a few dollars in his pocket, sets out to get to know the world.”

Parts of Texan Abortion Laws Struck Down

New abortion restrictions written by the Texas legislature, scheduled to go into effect tomorrow, have instead been declared unconstitutional. The law which passed in June despite the efforts Democratic Representative Wendy Davis, required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, that they follow strict instructions for pill-induced medical abortions, and only perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy if the health of the mother is in danger or the fetus is not viable. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that the regulations violated the rights of doctors to do what they think is best for their patients and would unreasonably restrict a woman’s access to abortion clinics. The Texas attorney general’s office unsuccessfully argued that the law protects women and the life of the fetus, saying Texan statutes “allows the state to impose such restrictions as long as it does not impose an undue burden on the patient” and that those suing have no evidence it will adversely affect women seeking abortions. Attorney General Greg Abbott is expected to file an emergency appeal of Yeakel’s order to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

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