Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Desperate Georgian government turns to J-Lo for help

THE GUARDIAN , MOSCOW

It is suffering from a crippling trade embargo and is locked in a war of words with its neighbor, Russia. Things are so bad for Georgia that the tiny Caucasus state has decided only one thing can rescue its image: Jennifer Lopez.

The government has offered the US dancer turned singer, actor and fashion icon US$500,000 to go to Georgia to celebrate Independence Day in the capital, Tbilisi, on May 26. She was also asked to help promote one of Georgia's most economically important products, wine, which was badly affected by what Tbilisi claims was a politically charged import ban imposed by the drink's biggest consumer, Russia.

But in an acute embarrassment to President Mikhail Saakashvili's administration, Lopez rejected the offer, reportedly setting unrealistic conditions for her appearance and holding out for a much larger fee.

The offer was revealed by Soso Shadberashvili, a key figure in the opposition Labor party, who said he was outraged that so much public money was being offered.

On Sunday, a government official admitted to the Interfax news agency that an offer had been made, and that Lopez had turned it down. The singer had also asked for overly expensive stage equipment, he said, adding that the money would have been raised through sponsors, not from the state budget.

A spokesman for Lopez could not be reached for comment.

Georgia's wine industry has been in crisis since Russian health officials imposed the ban, later extended to Georgian spirits, because of what it claims were unacceptable levels of pesticides found in bottles exported to Russia.

Georgia has described the ban as political and aimed at damaging its economy just as it tries to free itself from Russian influence.

Alcohol is Georgia's second biggest export and about 70 percent of its wines are sold to Russia.

Saakashvili, who has described Georgia as the "motherland of wine," has visited China and Turkey to find new wine markets. He also hopes to introduce it to the US.

His hawkish defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili, told local television that the Russian alcohol market was "a bazaar of very low consumer quality," and advised that Russians drink cold water instead.

He added: "In Russia one can sell, I beg your pardon for this expression, even fecal matter."

A Russian government spokesman said that such comments were unsuitable and smacked of desperation.

This story has been viewed 1904 times.
TOP top