Lugar honors Georgia lab, talks elections

Aug. 15, 2012 at 1:46 PM
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TBILISI, Georgia, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., urged Georgia's political parties to recognize the outcome of upcoming parliamentary elections.

Lugar, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared Sunday with President Mikheil Saakashvili to mark the renaming of the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory, opened in 2011, as the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research.

The $100 million lab, a joint U.S.-Georgian project, was established to help Georgia to respond to regional outbreaks of human and animal diseases of such as such H5N1 and H1N1 influenza.

Funding for the lab was provided under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, established in 1991 under the Nunn-Lugar Act, which has provided U.S. funding and expertise to help former Soviet republics secure and dismantle their leftover stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

It also seeks to reemploy scientists and facilities related to weapons of mass destruction in peaceful research initiatives.

At the dedication ceremony, Lugar said the lab will serve to safeguard "biosafety and security" as the two countries sought to "remedy the risks posed by the massive stockpile of chemical, nuclear and biological knowledge and material amassed throughout the former Soviet Union."

"The Soviet Union, Russia has never made such investments in Georgia," Saakashvili said during the event, the news Web site Civil Georgia reported.

Lugar also met with representatives of the opposition "Georgian Dream" coalition at a time when political tensions in the country are rising in the run-up to Oct. 1 parliamentary elections.

Lugar, who was completing a weeklong trip to Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, told the opposition leaders it was important that both sides recognize the outcome of the election results once they are certified, a Senate aide said.

The Georgian Dream coalition has emerged as a credible challenger to the Saakashvili's United National Movement Party, which has been in power since the 2003 Rose Revolution that ousted the nation's pro-Kremlin leadership.

Georgian Dream supporters say they are being harassed by government's supporters, while Saakashvili claims Georgia under his presidency has become a beacon of democracy and that his opponents are being controlled by Russia.

The European Union views the fairness of election as test of Georgia's democratic progress under Saakashvili.

Among those meeting with Lugar were David Usupashvili, leader of the Georgian Republican Party, and Our Georgia-Free Democrats leader Irakli Alasania, Trend news agency reported.

Giorgi Targamadze, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement, and former Georgian Foreign Minister Tedo Japaridze -- political adviser to opposition presidential hopeful Bidzina Ivanishvili -- were also in attendance, the news agency said.

Alasania said the need for fair and impartial vote-counting was discussed in the Lugar meeting, Georgian broadcaster Rustavi 2 reported.

"We all understand that in the process of the vote-counting, no violations must take place and the Georgian people's decision must be correctly depicted by the election commission," he said.

Also discussed, Alasania said, was the United States' support for Georgia's "territorial integrity and withdrawal of the Russian troops from the territory of our country" -- a reference to the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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