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Tbilisi: Georgia on Thursday said it was determined to take steps required to qualify for a status of an European Union membership candidate, after EU leaders decided to defer Tbilisi’s candidacy.

Tbilisi applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova, days after Russia launched an all-out war on Ukraine.

On Thursday, EU leaders decided to grant formal candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova but said they Georgia could only become an official candidate nation once the outstanding priorities are addressed.

“We are ready to work with determination over the next months to reach the candidate status,” President Salome Zurabishvili said on Twitter.

European Council President Charles Michel said the council “decided to recognise the European perspective of Georgia,” something Zurabishvili hailed as a “historic” move.

“A historic day. Georgia’s European perspective is recognised,” she said.

Last week, the European Commission said it will assess by the end of 2022 “how Georgia meets the number of conditions before granting its candidate status”.

The priorities identified by the European commission included ending political polarisation, progress on media freedom, judiciary and electoral reforms.

It has also stressed the need of “de-oligarchisation” — in an apparent reference to oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, a founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Ivanishvili is widely believed to be calling the shots in Georgia despite having no official political role.

In what was the biggest demonstration in decades, at least 120,000 Georgians took to the streets Monday in support of the country’s EU membership bid and next mass rally is scheduled for Friday.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution, calling on the EU to impose personal sanctions against Georgia’s richest man Ivanishvili, for his “destructive role” in Georgia’s politics and economy.

The Georgian Dream government has faced mounting international criticism over perceived backsliding on democracy, seriously damaging Tbilisi’s relations with Brussels.