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Newsline: Former French ambassador elected as president of Georgia

Salome Zurabishvili, a former French diplomat born to Georgian immigrants in Paris, won with the backing of Georgia’s ruling party in a second-round presidential vote on Wednesday. Zurabishvili, 66, was running as an independent candidate for the largely ceremonial position, but has the backing of the ruling Georgian Dream party. The election is seen as a test for the increasingly unpopular party, which is run by billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili. Zurabishvili was born in Paris to a family that fled Georgia for political reasons in 1921. She studied at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies and at Columbia University in New York before leading a successful career at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which culminated in an appointment as ambassador to Georgia in 2003. In 2004, then-president Saakashvili granted her Georgian citizenship with the endorsement of French President Jacques Chirac, and she became Georgia’s foreign minister. A previous bid to seek the presidency in 2013 was disqualified, due to her holding dual French and Georgian citizenship. She announced in August that France had terminated her French citizenship at her request, so she could submit her candidacy for the 2018 poll. “The decision was not simple, but it was necessary,” Zurabishvili said at that time. “The President of Georgia cannot simultaneously be a citizen of another country.”



Newsline: Ex-French diplomat unlikely favourite for Georgian president

When Salome Zurabishvili arrived in Georgia in 2004 as French ambassador, few could have predicted that 15 years later she would be favourite to be elected president of the ex-Soviet nation. The Caucasus country votes Sunday in a hotly contested race that has pitted Zurabishvili, supported by the ruling Georgian Dream party, against opposition-backed Grigol Vashadze. The position of president will be largely ceremonial following a change to the constitution but the polls are seen as a test for the increasingly unpopular Georgian Dream. Zurabishvili’s unorthodox path to the candidacy has also generated interest. The stylish 66-year-old, currently an independent MP, is the daughter of refugees who fled Georgia in 1921 for Paris after the country’s annexation by the Red Army. Her career in France’s foreign ministry culminated in her posting to Tbilisi. From that position former president Mikheil Saakashvili appointed her foreign minister — after approving the move with then French leader Jacques Chirac. But Zurabishvili quickly made enemies in the ranks of the parliamentary majority, with MPs and a number of senior diplomats publicly accusing her of arrogance and impulsivity. She was sacked after a year on the job, though thousands took to the streets of the capital to protest her dismissal. She then joined the opposition and became one of Saakashvili’s fiercest critics. She speaks Georgian with a strong French accent and frequent grammatical mistakes. Opinion polls put opposition candidate Vashadze almost even with Zurabishvili, who renounced her French citizenship to be able to stand. Vashadze is a respected career diplomat who served in the Soviet foreign ministry where he helped craft the Soviet-US treaty on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. The 60-year-old was Saakashvili’s foreign minister from 2008-2012. Both candidates have campaigned on similar promises to bring Georgia closer to full membership of the European Union and NATO. The vote is Georgia’s last direct leadership poll as the Black Sea nation transitions to a parliamentary form of governance following a controversial constitutional reform. Georgia’s next president will be elected in 2024 by a 300-member electoral college. Over 3.5 million people are eligible to vote in the election which will be monitored by international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


Newsline: France Expels Iranian Diplomat Over Failed Bomb Plot

France has expelled an Iranian diplomat in response to a failed plot to carry out a bomb attack at a rally near Paris organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group, diplomatic and security sources say. France’s foreign ministry said there was no doubt the Iranian intelligence ministry had been behind the plot against the June 30 rally. It subsequently froze assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals. About a month ago it went a step further, expelling an Iranian diplomat based in Paris, five sources said. Two of the sources said the diplomat was an Iranian intelligence operative under diplomatic cover. A spokesman at the Iranian embassy in Paris did not respond when asked about the diplomat’s expulsion. Iran has previously said it had nothing to do with the attempt to carry out a bomb attack at the rally. One Iranian official, who declined to be identified, denied there had been any expulsion. French President Emmanuel Macron’s office referred all inquiries to the foreign ministry, which said it would not comment.


Newsline: France Summons Venezuela Ambassador Over ‘Suspicious’ Death

France’s Foreign Ministry says it has summoned Venezuela’s ambassador to France over the “suspicious” death earlier this week of an opposition councilor jailed by Venezuelan intelligence police on allegations he plotted to kill President Nicolas Maduro. In a statement Thursday, the Quai d’Orsay said Hector Michel Mujica Ricardo was summoned earlier in the day. “France hopes light will be shed on this death through an impartial and independent investigation.” No more details were provided. Venezuelan officials say Fernando Alban killed himself by leaping from the 10th floor of the state police agency’s headquarters earlier this week. But opposition leaders reject the official version. The United Nations has said it will investigate the death.


Newsline: Iran accuses French police of slow reaction to attack on Paris embassy

Iran said on Saturday that Kurdish activists attacked its embassy in Paris and it accused French police of arriving late on the scene. Paris police confirmed officers had responded to an incident at the embassy on Friday afternoon, but declined to comment on the speed of their response. Fars news agency reported that about 15 Kurdish activists burned the Iranian flag in front of the embassy during the incident and broke some windows with stones. They also threw fire extinguishers and computers at the gate but did not manage to enter the premises, Fars said. “The French government should take all necessary measures to protect Iranian diplomatic missions in that country,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA on Saturday. “Unfortunately, the French police did not arrive as expected on the scene on time, although the assailants were members of a terrorist organization,” he said. Qasemi said some of the attackers were arrested.


Newsline: French ambassador calls jokes on WC team ‘white supremacist’

The French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud has called out South African comedian Trevor Noah for joking that the France team that won the World Cup last Sunday is African. “By calling them an African team, it seems you are denying their Frenchness. This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French,” Araud wrote in a letter posted on the French embassy’s Twitter account. The victory of a multicultural French team against Croatia in Sunday’s final in Moscow has reverberated across the globe, being celebrated in France and other places as a triumph for diversity, while it has fanned racist abuse in some corners. Fifteen of the 23-man French World Cup squad have family origins in Africa ranging from Cameroon to Congo and Mali, although only two of them were born in Africa and moved to France when they were still toddlers. “Africa won the World Cup,” Noah, host of The Daily Show, said in a segment on the late-night television programme this week. “I get it, they have to say it’s the French team. But look at those guys. You don’t get that tan by hanging out in the south of France, my friends.”


Newsline: Iranian diplomat in Austria held over Paris bomb plot

Austria is preparing to strip the diplomatic immunity from an Iranian envoy suspected of planning to bomb Iranian politicians in France. The diplomat and two other arrested people are suspected of plotting to attack a meeting of exiled opposition members in Paris last weekend. Tehran denies any involvement. The diplomatic tension comes a day before President Hassan Rouhani is due to arrive in Austria to discuss a disputed nuclear deal. Two Belgian nationals apprehended in Brussels are reported to be husband and wife, and to be of Iranian origin. The Iranian diplomat, identified as Assadollah A, is ordinarily based in the Austrian capital. But he was arrested in Germany.