Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 12:57 UK

Georgia ex-minister granted asylum

Irakli Okruashvili
Okruashvili's arrest triggered a wave of opposition in Georgia

A Georgian former defence minister convicted of extortion in his home country, has been granted asylum in France, his lawyer has said.

Irakli Okruashvili, a prominent critic of the Georgian president, insists the charges were politically motivated.

His lawyer said France had been "receptive" to his appeal for political asylum in the country.

Okruashvili, dismissed from office in 2006, was sentenced in absentia in Georgia to 11 years in prison in March.

'At risk'

Georgia continues to seek his extradition.

Okruashvili's situation, his lawyer Louis-Marie de Roux said, "risked getting worse in the event of an extradition to his country because of his opposition to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili".

She added that she expected the extradition request to be turned down after asylum was formally granted.

Okruashvili was arrested in Germany in November on an Interpol warrant, but was later allowed to enter France.

He was originally arrested in Georgia last September, after accusing Mr Saakashvili of corruption.

He was bailed after retracting his statement and left for Germany, but later said his retraction was forced.

His original arrest triggered a wave of opposition rallies, prompting Mr Saakashvili to declare a state of emergency and call a snap election, which he won in January.

The former defence minister's conviction for corruption means he is no longer eligible to run for office in Georgian parliamentary elections, as he had been hoping to do.


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