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26 Sep, 2007 14:14

Moscow says Okruashvili's allegations should be examined

The Head of Foreign Affairs in the Duma, Konstantin Kosachev, says statements made by Irakly Okruashvili against the Georgian President should be discussed internationally.

Mr Kosachev said Okruashvili's claims amount to an emergency event.

“We are possibly talking about the forceful elimination of, or threats to, the highest officials in the country, including the former head of state, and deputies of the Georgian parliament. Such statements should be taken seriously and examined by the authorities of Georgia, if it really is the democratic state it claims to be,” Mr Kosachev said.

The claims

Smear campaign?

Spies convicted

The claims

Irakly Okruashvili made his accusations on the day he established a new opposition party in Georgia named the Movement for United Georgia. He has called his supporters to gather at the headquarters of the party to show their support of his criticism of President Saakashvili. Mr Okruashvili also re-iterated his allegations in a televised interview on Tuesday evening.

“Saakashvili's entourage has gone beyond the limits and made unlawfulness and the suppression of people a general practice. Daily repressions, destruction of homes and churches, killings. I would like to stress – killings. They’ve become common practice by the authorities. And because of all that, the intimidation of people has become natural and they are afraid to protest against the government,” said Irakly Okruashvili.

Okruashvili says he has evidence of numerous crimes committed by the current Georgian authorities. He alleged that Saakashvili had ordered him to kill Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili. Okruashvili says the Georgian President still believes the businessman is a threat.

Mr Okruashvili also accused the Georgian President of faking the country's anti-corruption campaign, saying that he was told to release one of Saakashvilli's relatives, who had been arrested for taking a $US 200,000 bribe.

Okruashvili has held a number of posts in the Georgian government. He is known as a hawk, and was once one of Saakashvili's closest allies.

Smear campaign?

This scandal comes at a bad time for Mr Saakashvili’s Government. Georgia is trying to present itself as having a unified front, particularly against what the President believes were attacks from Russia. The Government is also trying to strengthen ties with NATO and the West.

President Mikhail Saakashvili is currently in New York attending the General Assembly of the United Nations. So far he has not commented on the accusations.

But a ruling party member Giga Bokeria has already called the allegations absurd.

“We've heard absolutely absurd and dirty accusations, a real hysteria. And we've heard them from the politician who was a member of the team at the time when the alleged monstrous crimes took place, and at the same time, who has been keeping silent until recently,” Mr Bokeria said.

Dmitry Babich, a political analyst for the Russian Profile magazine believes the roots of the scandal are in the imperfection of Georgia’s political system: “Not a single Georgian leader has been replaced in a peaceful way. President Gamsakhurdia was subverted, President Shevarnadze also left power as a result of a coup.  So, probably Okurashvili sees no other way of succeeding Saakashvili but by waging a campaign against him,” Mr Babich suggests.

Spies convicted

Meanwhile it has been revealed that a group of Georgian citizens have been convicted on charges of treason and co-operation with Russian special services. According to the Novosti-Gruzia news agency, the Tbilisi city court passed down the verdict as early as January this year, but the news has only just been made public.

The eleven Georgians were detained along with four Russian officers in Georgia during September last year. All of them were charged with spying for Russia.

Following Moscow's condemnation of the arrest of its military personnel, the officers were handed over to Russia.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated severely as a result of the incident. Russia recalled its ambassador from Tbilisi for several months, suspended air travel and postal communications between the two countries and stopped issuing visas to Georgian citizens.

The  issuing of visas has been partially resumed since then. However the tension is still high between the countries.