• Georgia urged to stop arrests of Saakashvili officials
     | November 19,2012

    TBILISI, Georgia — Concerned that Georgia’s bitter political transition could turn into a wave of political reprisals, U.S. officials have urged the new prime minister to stop the arrests of officials who served under President Mikhail Saakashvili, warning that politically motivated prosecutions could jeopardize Georgia’s chances of joining NATO.

    But a court in Tbilisi decided over the weekend to leave 12 Interior Ministry officials in detention pending their trial. The officials are accused of using illegal surveillance to record conversations discrediting Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose party defeated Saakashvili’s in parliamentary elections last month.

    Lawmakers from the rival parties must now share power in Parliament, but Ivanishvili, the new prime minister, said he would make it a priority to investigate officials leaving the government of Saakashvili, whose term ends next year.

    Philip H. Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, met with Ivanishvili on Friday and said that Georgia’s transfer of power was seen as “in some ways a model for the region.” But Gordon warned that prosecutions of officials who served under Saakashvili could be viewed as political payback.

    “Nobody wants to see, or get the perception, that all this is about retribution against political enemies rather than the rule of law,” Gordon said. “That’s the balance that the government is going to have to strike, as it absolutely rightly seeks to hold people accountable for their actions according to Georgian law — but also seeks to avoid giving the impression internationally and domestically that it’s going to use its power to execute retribution on other political leaders.”

    Gordon said the members of NATO “have been watching very carefully how this plays out.” Saakashvili and Ivanishvili have said they hoped to steer Georgia toward membership in the alliance.

    Tedo Japaridze, one of Ivanishvili’s top aides, said the United States seemed intent on protecting Saakashvili and his allies from prosecution.

    “They may try to save Saakashvili’s party and, moreover, their own reputations, because for nine years they have been supporting the government whose deeds have become the subject for investigation,” he said.

    Emotions ran high at the detention hearing, where the mayor of Tbilisi, a close ally of Saakashvili’s, argued that the result of the prosecutions could be a political setback for Georgia.

    “Every charge is fabricated and serves only political goals,” said the mayor, Gigi Ugulava, speaking to reporters after the court hearing.

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