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Georgia's mutiny leaders given heavy prison terms

Georgian tanks move near Tbilisi. Photo: 5 May 2009
The government sent a column of tanks to surpress the mutiny

A court in Georgia has sentenced more than a dozen soldiers and civilians to lengthy jail terms for their role in a brief military rebellion last May.

Two of those sentenced were commanders in the military at the time.

The mutiny, which officials say was a coup attempt, was in a tank battalion near the capital, Tbilisi. It ended peacefully after a brief stand-off.

It followed protests against President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was accused of mishandling the 2008 war with Russia.

At the time, Tbilisi said the plotters had been supported by Russia - a claim denied by Moscow.

Chaotic trial

Tbilisi city court on Monday sentenced the mutineers to up to 30 years in prison.

Georgia opposition protest in Tbiilisi (20 May 2009)
The rebellion came during weeks of anti-government protests in Tbilisi

Levan Amiridze, a former commander of a military rangers' battalion, was sentenced to 28 years in jail for an attempt to overthrow the government and disobedience.

Shota Gorgiashvili, a commander of the tank battalion at Mukhrovani, was found guilty on similar charges and received 19-year jail term.

Koba Otanadze, a retired army colonel, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on mutiny and coup charges as well as illegal possession of weapons and disobedience.

Their defence lawyers said there was no evidence to justify the ruling and that they would appeal.

Another defendant, retired Gen Koba Kobaladze, was cleared of coup charges.

Other defendants - including seven civilians - were jailed for terms of between two and 15 years.

The sentences draw to a close a lengthy and at times chaotic trial, and an equally murky set of events, the BBC's Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi reports.

map

Three hours after the uprising was reported on 5 May 2009, President Saakashvili followed a column of tanks into the base and declared the situation had been brought under control, our correspondent says.

Some 500 soldiers were then rounded up for questioning.

At the time, the authorities said the mutiny had been part of a wider coup plot with Russian support.

It happened on the eve of highly controversial Nato military exercises in Georgia and coincided with opposition-led street protests, our correspondent says.

He adds that analysts have since suggested the mutiny had resulted from internal criticism of the handling of the war with Russia.

The conflict erupted on 7 August 2008, as Georgia tried to retake control of its rebel region South Ossetia, following weeks of clashes and escalating tensions.

Russian forces quickly repelled the assault, and pushed further into Georgia.



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