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11 Oct, 2007 15:30

Okruashvili to quit politics

Less than a month after Georgia's former Defence Minister, Irakly Okruashvili, launched his career as an opposition leader, it has been announced in Tbilisi that he is leaving politics.

The news was broken at a press conference, which Mr Okruashvili himself didn't attend. His supporters said the former Minister was feeling both morally and physically unwell.

“Irakly Okruashvili has done his job. Taking into account the current situation at this stage, Irakly Okruashvili is leaving politics,” commented Koka Gunsadze, a member of the Georgian parliament.

Okruashvili made the headlines in late September when he launched his opposition movement with a scathing attack on President Saakashvili, accusing him of crimes such as plotting assassinations, corruption and money-laundering. Just days later, Okruashvili was arrested on corruption charges, prompting large-scale protests.

Earlier this week Mr Okruashvili appeared on TV retracting his allegations against the President and admitting his own guilt. On Tuesday he was released on $US 6 million bail.

Some of his supporters alleged that he had been drugged into making the confession or that his family had been threatened. Okruashvili, however, had a different explanation.

“My co-operation with the investigation and recognition of my guilt will help the investigation progress and thus help mitigate my situation,” Irakly Okruashvili claimed.

Mr Okruashvili still faces charges and will stand trial in the coming months.

Georgia’s divided opposition managed to unite following the arrest of the former Defence Minister and have been planning further large protests. They insist that Okruashvili’s retirement will not change their plans.

“Irakly Okruashvili was important to me only as a source of information. If he decides tomorrow to be a source of information, that's great. If not – it's OK. Today, what Irakly Okruashvili does is his personal choice, but it's not that important for society and for the country anymore,” said Tina Khidasheli, a leading member of the Georgian Republican Party.

Nonetheless, Okruashvili’s retirement from politics and his confession of guilt is likely to deal a blow to the new-found unity of Georgia’s opposition.

The opposition are planning a big demonstration outside Georgia’s Parliament building on November 2, but without Okruashvili it might be a big disappointment.