Thousands of Georgians demand to join EU at Tbilisi rally

Tens of thousands of people packed central Tbilisi on Monday (June 20) evening in a strong show of support for a path for Georgia towards accession to the European Union and eventual membership of the 27-nation bloc, Reuters reports.

Tbilisi’s main central thoroughfare Rustavelli Avenue was closed to traffic as tens of thousands gathered outside Georgia’s parliament building to call on the government led by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to implement necessary reforms required by Brussels for candidacy to the European Union.

The crowd waved flags of Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and the EU and carried banners that read ‘See You in the EU’ and ‘We are Europe’. Monday’s rally was organised by a broad coalition of Georgia’s opposition parties and pro-democracy groups.

Last Friday (June 17) the European Union’s executive recommended that Ukraine and Moldova become candidates for membership, a milestone in their potential path from ex-Soviet republics to developed economies in the world’s largest trading bloc.

The Commission put conditions on Georgia’s aspiration for membership candidacy, including electoral and judicial reforms and progress on media freedom. Russia fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008 and maintains a military presence in two disputed regions of the country.

Ukraine applied to join the EU four days after Russian troops poured across its border in February. Another four days later, so did Moldova and Georgia – smaller ex-Soviet states also contending with separatist regions backed by Russia.

If the European Commission’s decision is ratified as expected at an EU leader’s summit this week, it will be a morale boost for Kyiv and further Western snub for Russian President Vladimir Putin after his special military operation in Ukraine in February.