Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Opposition activists arrested in Georgia

Georgia's Interior Ministry has confirmed the arrests of several opposition activists, and accused them of illegally buying firearms.

Nino Burdzhanadze, who heads the opposition For a United Georgia party, said on Monday that 10 of the party's activists had been arrested. She accused President Mikhail Saakashvili of arranging the arrests to intimidate the opposition, and said weapons had been planted in the activists' homes.

Later on Monday the Interior Ministry denied that the arrests carried out on Sunday evening were political, and released video footage that it said showed the suspects buying weapons.
"Representatives of certain parties have made very harsh statements. We have therefore decided to provide the public with some of the materials proving the criminal activities of the arrested individuals," Shota Utiashvili, head of the Interior Ministry's analytical department, told reporters.

The footage shows men conducting detailed discussions on firearms purchases, including prices and types of ammunition. In one recording, a man mentions the AKS-74U Kalashnikov assault rifle, noting its effectiveness in urban conditions.

Burdzhanadze said the arrests marked the start of a "punitive campaign" by the government against the opposition, ahead of the mass protest planned for April 9 to demand Saakashvili's resignation.

The president has seen his popularity steadily decline since last August's conflict with Russia, which was followed by Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, republics that had been de facto independent from Tbilisi since the early 1990s.


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