Georgian PM accused of witch-hunt after high-profile arrests


Allies of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili have accused new prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili of launching a witch-hunt against his enemies, after a former government minister and two senior army generals were arrested on charges of abuse of power.

Former defence and interior minister Bacho Akhalaia was yesterday placed in pre-trial detention, while army chief-of-staff Giorgi Kalandadze and army brigade commander Zurab Shamatava were released on bail.

They are all accused of physically and verbally abusing six soldiers in 2011. Mr Akhalaia is also charged with holding one person captive for several hours. They could face prison terms of between eight and 12 years if convicted.

“I’ve never, ever heard such an absurd reason for detention,” said lawyer David Dekanoidze earlier this week.

Mr Saakashvili and supporters denounced the arrests and a financial inspection of the state television broadcaster as political attacks by forces loyal to Mr Ivanishvili.

The United National Movement, which backs Mr Saakashvili and which was surprisingly defeated in an election last month by Mr Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, walked out of parliament in protest at what it called government attempts to “establish control over the military and television”.

“There is every sign of the use of the prosecutor’s office for political ends and political revenge,” said Giga Bokeria, who is still head of the national security council despite the change of government.

Mr Akhalaia resigned as interior minister just before last month’s election, amid a scandal that revealed brutal abuse of prison inmates. The revelations, complete with graphic footage, are believed to have turned many Georgians against the government and boosted support for Mr Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream.

Mr Ivanishvili has denied that the cases against Mr Akhalaia and the generals are politically motivated.