Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Georgian opposition members held

Georgian police have arrested several members of an opposition party for allegedly trying to purchase illegal weapons, the authorities say. The interior ministry released footage of those arrested allegedly discussing how to buy several rifles and pistols.

Opposition leader Nino Burjanadze said nine members had been detained but that the arrests were on false pretences. Ms Burjanadze, who is planning to lead an anti-government protest next month, is a former ally of the president.

She formed the Democratic Movement-United Georgia party in November, criticising President Mikhail Saakashvili's "increasing authoritarianism" and "bad decision making" - in particular, his decision to go to war with Russia in August over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

'Campaign of terror'

A spokesman for the Georgian interior ministry confirmed that 10 people had been arrested on suspicion of trying to buy large supplies of automatic weapons, including some "not very high-ranking" members of the opposition party. It also released what it said was secretly-filmed video evidence showing some of those people discussing how to buy rifles and pistols.
Interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said: "We don't claim this to be a political conspiracy.

"The only thing we know is that there are people who have expressed interest in buying weapons and have bought weapons." Ms Burjanadze strongly denied that anyone from her party was involved in buying or storing weapons and said that the government was mounting "a campaign of terror against her".

"We are familiar with such video evidence and how it is made up," she told a news conference.
The BBC's Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi says it is unclear from the government videos whether anyone arrested was planning to use the guns in anti-government activity, and the interior ministry spokesman said he did not want to politicise the arrests.

But they come just weeks before a planned opposition-led demonstration and against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter feud between the two sides, our correspondent says.

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