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Last Updated: Monday, 8 October 2007, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Georgian ex-minister 'confesses'
Irakli Okruashvili (25 September 2007)
Mr Okruashvili's is a former ally of the president
Georgia's former defence minister has retracted criminal accusations against President Mikhail Saakashvili, saying they were made for political gain.

But opposition leaders said Irakly Okruashvili's comments may have been made under pressure from prosecutors.

Mr Okruashvili was arrested last month on money-laundering charges, two days after accusing the president of corruption and a murder plot.

Mr Saakashvili denies the claims. The row triggered mass street protests.

It also united Georgia's divided opposition parties in a campaign aimed at ousting the pro-Western president, who came to power during the so-called Rose Revolution in 2003, the BBC's Matthew Collin in Tbilisi says.

Bail of $6m

Mr Okruashvili's confessions were broadcast on Georgian TV.

Mikhail Saakashvili
President Saakashvili denied all the allegations as "lies"

"I do not confirm these facts and I made these statements to reap political dividends," the former minister was shown telling an investigator.

"These statements were made to discredit President Saakashvili."

A court in the capital, Tbilisi, later ruled that Mr Okruashvili should be freed on bail of $6m pending the trial.

But it said that the former minister would remain in custody until the money was paid.

Mr Okruashvili's lawyer, Eka Beselia, said she had not been present during the questioning.

But she told Reuters news agency that she had "a suspicion that he was under pressure".

Her words were echoed by several opposition leaders, who said they believed Mr Okruashvili had given testimony under duress.

They called on their supporters to raise the bail money to free "a hostage of a terrorist gang".

"He clearly gave the testimony under duress," said Kakha Kukhava of the Democratic Front.

The opposition claim that high-level corruption is still widespread in Georgia and accuse the government of targeting its political opponents.

The president's allies say the arrest of Mr Okruashvili shows that even ministers suspected of corruption cannot escape prosecution.

SEE ALSO
Timeline: Georgia
25 Aug 07 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
25 Aug 07 |  Country profiles

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